Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 17 > Issue 1

Coordination and Innovation in Judiciaries: Correct Law versus Consistent Law

Mehdi Shadmehr, Department of Public Policy, University of North Carolina, USA, mshadmeh@gmail.com , Sepehr Shahshahani, School of Law, Fordham University, USA, sshahshahani@fordham.edu , Charles Cameron, Department of Politics and Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, USA, ccameron@princeton.edu
Suggested Citation
Mehdi Shadmehr, Sepehr Shahshahani and Charles Cameron (2022), "Coordination and Innovation in Judiciaries: Correct Law versus Consistent Law", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 17: No. 1, pp 61-89. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00019216

Publication Date: 24 Jan 2022
© 2022 M. Shadmehr, S. Shahshahani and C. Cameron
Courts,  Judiciary
Non-hierarchical judiciaryinformal authoritylegal innovationstare decisisnarrow opinionscoordinationbeauty contests


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In this article:
Model and Analysis 
Appendix I: More Examples 
Appendix II: Proofs 
Appendix III: Heterogeneous Judges 


We identify the coordination consideration among judges who do not have formal authority over each other, and investigate its consequences for their decisions and legal innovations. Coordination concerns arise because judges value the consistent application of law. To mitigate their strategic uncertainty, judges overweight interpretations that are visible throughout the judiciary (e.g., prominent judges' opinions) because their visibility facilitates coordination. This creates a tradeoff between the consistent and correct application of law—the two desiderata of judicial decision-making. In particular, anticipating overreactions to their opinions, some prominent judges refrain from expressing their informed opinions. Paradoxically, the propensity to refrain is strongest in prominent judges who care most about the correct application of law. From their perspective, excessive concern for uniformity in the judiciary overrides the informational value of expressing informed opinions. We explore the implications for issuing narrow or broad opinions, the stickiness of precedent, and the practice of stare decisis. We provide concrete examples from contract, property, tort, and constitutional law that support our theoretical mechanisms.