The Journal of Politics


Modeling Motivations: A Method for Inferring Judicial Goals from Behavior

Gretchen Helmkea1 and Mitchell S. Sandersa2

a1 University of Rochester

a2 Harris Interactive


The consensus among most scholars of American politics is that judges are policy seekers. Yet we know very little about what motivates judges in other parts of the world. To begin to address this gap, we develop a systematic method for inferring goals from behavior. Using a simple game-theoretic framework, we generate a series of testable propositions linking behavioral outcomes to goals for four ideal types of judges: loyalists, policy seekers, institutionalists, and careerists. We illustrate the power of our method with original data on individual and collective judicial decision making on the Argentine Supreme Court (1976–2000).

(Online publication August 09 2005)

(Accepted February 17 2006)

Gretchen Helmke is assistant professor of political science, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627.

Mitchell S. Sanders is senior research scientist, Harris Interactive, Rochester, NY 14623.