The John M. Olin Center

Paper Abstract

268. J. Mark Ramseyer and Eric B. Rasmusen, Why Are Japanese Judges So Conservative in Politically Charged Cases?, 11/99; subsequently published in American Political Science Review, Vol. 95, No. 2, June 2001, 331-344.

Abstract: In politically charged cases, Japanese judges routinely implement the policy preferences of the long-time ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). That Supreme Court justices defer to the LDP simply reflects the fact that they are appointed by the LDP at a senior level. We hypothesize that lower court judges defer on sensitive political questions because they then do better in their careers. In Japan, the lower courts couple a jurisdictional reach that includes politically sensitive disputes with a judicial career structure that rewards and punishes judges according to their work product. The result, we show, has been the politicization of basic judicial incentives.

To carry out this study, we assemble several new data sets. We then measure the quality of the assignments some 400 judges received after deciding various sets of politically charged cases, holding constant proxies for effort, intelligence, seniority, and political bias. Through this multivariate approach, we find that judges who defer to the LDP in politically salient disputes do better than those who do not. Similarly, judges who enjoin the national (but not local) government have less successful careers.

Last, to explore the use of other career penalties and to examine whether evidence of politically charged penalties appears in larger samples, we ask whether judges who joined a leftist group in the 1960s were promoted up the pay scale as rapidly as their peers. Using data on the 501 judges hired from 1959 to 1968, we find that the leftist judges earned lower salaries.

268: PDF