Attitudinal and Neo-Institutional Models of Supreme Court Decision Making: An Empirical and Comparative Perspective from Israel


  • An earlier version of this article was presented at the Joint Annual Meeting of the Law and Society Association (LSA) and the Canadian Law and Society Association (CLSA), May 2008, Montreal, Canada. I am grateful for the comments made there, and for suggestions by Menachem Hofnung, Robert Kagan, Herbert Kritzer, Raanan Sulitzeanu-Kenan, and Mark Tushnet.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 5 AHLAMA St., Mevaseret Zion, Israel 90805; email:


This study examines decision making in Israel's Supreme Court regarding freedom of religion, while implementing models of decision making that were researched in other high courts, mainly the U.S. Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of Canada. Two theoretical models were studied: the attitudinal model, according to which justices decide disputes consistent with their ideological positions; and the neo-institutional approach, according to which the roles and norms of the court as an institution affect the justices' decisions. Conclusions indicate that justices' attitudes in Israel have a very strong influence on their votes on the merits. Religiously observant justices were significantly more likely to support freedom of religion claims than nonobservant justices. At the same time, the neo-institutional claim that the law does matter is also supported by the findings. The results of the study, as compared to former studies conducted in other countries, can help better understand the influence of institutional arrangements on decision making in high courts.