Estimating Preferences of Circuit Judges: A Model of Consensus Voting

32 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2009 Last revised: 3 Jul 2012

See all articles by Joshua B. Fischman

Joshua B. Fischman

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: October 26, 2010


This paper develops a “consensus voting” model for estimating preferences of judges on federal circuit courts. Rather than assuming sincere voting, as is typical in ideal point estimation, this model accounts for the norm of consensus in the courts of appeals by including a “cost of dissent” in the judicial utility function. A test of the consensus voting model using a data set of asylum appeals in the Ninth Circuit demonstrates that it provides a substantially better fit and generates more accurate predictions of voting probabilities than a comparable sincere voting model. The model generates credible estimates of the impact of panel composition on case outcomes, which is surprisingly large in the asylum cases. Even though 95% of these decisions were unanimous, roughly half could have been decided differently if assigned to a different panel.

Suggested Citation

Fischman, Joshua B., Estimating Preferences of Circuit Judges: A Model of Consensus Voting (October 26, 2010). 54 Journal of Law and Economics 781 (2011), Virginia Law and Economics Research Paper No. 2009-14, Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2009-21, Available at SSRN:

Joshua B. Fischman (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

Do you want regular updates from SSRN on Twitter?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics