“Can the judiciary find its Nate Silver?”

April 15th, 2013

Cass Sunstein reviews The Behavior of Federal Judges: A Theoretical and Empirical Study of Rational Choice by Lee Epstein, William M. Landes, and Richard A. Posner:

So can we play moneyball with judges? Can the judiciary find its Nate Silver?

A lot of people think so. In recent decades, researchers have been counting and cataloging many thousands of judicial votes. Armed with statistical techniques, they have tested a variety of hypotheses about what judges do and why they do it. Posner likes this enterprise, and he is now a part of it. He has teamed up with Lee Epstein (a political scientist) and William Landes (an economist) to provide a comprehensive, numbers-filled assessment of judicial voting patterns.

The resulting book counts as the most detailed and elaborate quantitative analysis of the federal judiciary to date. Its starting point, and its central creed, is its epigraph from Lord Kelvin: “I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind: it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the state of science, whatever the matter may be.”