Judicial Specialization and Ideological Decision Making in the US Courts of Appeals


  • The authors wish to thank Larry Baum, Jeff Budziak, and Trent Davis for their helpful suggestions on earlier drafts of this article. A previous version of this work was presented at the 2012 Midwest Political Science Association Conference in Chicago.


We investigate the influence of subject matter expertise, opinion specialization, and judicial experience on the role of ideology in decision making in the courts of appeals in a generalized, as opposed to specialized, setting. We find that subject matter experts and opinion specialists are significantly more likely to engage in ideological decision making than their nonspecialist counterparts and that opinion specialization is a particularly potent factor in ideological decision making. Further, increased judicial experience has no effect on the conditional use of ideology. We discuss the potentially wide-ranging implications of our findings for both theory and policy.