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This essay reviews Epstein, Landes, and Posner’s The Behavior of Federal Judges: A Theoretical and Empirical Study of Rational Choice. Their book systematically asks how the role of ideology varies across the tiers of the federal judicial hierarchy. A major finding is that the impact of ideology increases from the bottom to the top of the judicial hierarchy. Their typical methodology formulates an ex ante measure of judicial ideology such as the political party of the appointing president, and demonstrates that this measure correlates with later judicial behavior, often voting on case dispositions. Along the way, they investigate a multitude of topics, including some quite under‐explored ones.

We argue that ELP’s theory is only weakly connected to their empirical practice, for the latter focuses on the role of ideology in judging while the former says almost nothing about that relationship. In fact, though, their empirical practice does embed a theory of law and ideology, but one quite different from that suggested by the book’s rhetoric. In the penultimate section of the essay, we explore this disconnection between ELP’s theory, practice, and interpretation. Its origin (we argue) lies in an extremely thin conceptualization of law. We conclude with the issue posed in ELP’s final chapter, “The Way Forward,” but suggest a rather different path.

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courts, judicial politics, case space