The Journal of Politics


Reasoning on the Threshold: Testing the Separability of Preferences in Legal Decision Making

Eileen Bramana1

a1 Indiana University


One hundred and fifteen law students were given a mock brief with identical legal arguments on both sides of a standing dispute in litigation involving restrictions on political expression of public employees. The content of the expression at issue (pro-choice versus pro-life) and the jurisdiction where the case was pending (with versus without controlling authority on the standing issue) were experimentally manipulated. Participants' policy views on (1) abortion, (2) free speech, and (3) Hatch Act restrictions were measured to assess their influence on the standing decision. In line with traditional notions of legal reasoning, participants were able to separate their views on Hatch Act restrictions from the standing decision. Opinions on free speech, however, influenced judgments consistent with attitudinal hypotheses. Also, participants' opinions on abortion interacted with speech content to influence judgments—but in a manner not wholly consistent with legal or attitudinal accounts of decision making.

(Online publication January 28 2005)

(Accepted July 07 2005)

Eileen Braman is assistant professor of political science, Indiana University, Bloomington IN 47405.