The Attitudinal Model of Judicial Decision Making

Instructor: Olga Bugajenko

Olga is a registered PRINCE2 Practitioner and has a master's degree in project management.

How do judges make decisions? While case facts are fundamental to any judicial decision-making, other factors can shape the case outcome. Learn more about the attitudinal model that predicts the behavior of the courts.

The Attitudinal Model

Judicial decision-making models aim to explain and predict the behavior of the courts. Three main models of the judicial decision-making exist: attitudinal, strategic, and legal. The attitudinal model assumes that the decisions are made by a judge based on the case facts against his sincere attitudes and values. The ideological views of the judge and his policy preferences can have more effect on his decision-making than the law. As the result, the decisions of two liberal judges will follow a similar pattern, while there will be a significant difference in the behavior and rulings of a liberal and a conservative. The attitudes of a judge are shaped by his experience and environment. By determining the values of a given judge and his preferences, his ruling on certain matters can be predicted by the model.

The attitudinal judicial decision-making is particularly likely in case of strongly politically-charged issues. A famous Bush v. Gore case during 2000 presidential election is a great example of this: the four most liberal justices of the Supreme Court supported the Gore position, while the five most conservative justices ruled the case in Bush's favor. The justices' political views clearly impacted their decisions.

While the combination of the decision-maker's preferences and the facts undoubtedly help to predict the outcome of the case, the model is criticized because the degree to which the final decision will depend on the personal preferences is unknown and varies from case to case. The degree to which the attitudes of the decision-maker can remain sincere is also frequently questioned.

Goals, Rules, and Situations

The decision will depend on the goals of the decision-maker, the rules he has to follow, and the situation that he is in. Driven by his goals, among all alternatives, the decision-maker will pick the one that yields him the biggest benefit. Most often the attitudinal model is studied in the context of the US Supreme Court, which is concerned with policy goals.

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