Vol. 29 No. 2 (February 2019) pp. 20-22

ROUTLEDGE HANDBOOK OF JUDICIAL BEHAVIOR, by Robert M. Howard and Kirk A. Randazzo (eds). New York: Routledge, 2018. 518pp. Hardback $235.00. ISBN: 9781138913356.

Reviewed by Lisa M. Holmes, Department of Political Science, The University of Vermont. Email:

The newly edited volume of ROUTLEDGE HANDBOOK OF JUDICIAL BEHAVIOR by Robert Howard and Kirk Randazzo is dedicated to the memories of Harold Spaeth and Donald Songer as “pioneers in judicial behavior.” This is a fitting tribute, in part because of how Howard and Randazzo seek to position this book as a contemporary, comprehensive assessment of the state of the judicial behavior field, which has built upon the work of scholarly pioneers such as Spaeth and Songer. The influence of judicial behavior pioneers is reflected most directly in some of these chapters, such as the one on “The Courts of Appeals,” written by Susan Haire, Reginald S. Sheehan, and Ali S. Masood, all students of Songer. Throughout the book, however, the chapter authors endeavor to place their assessment of judicial behavior starting with the foundational work done by the field’s pioneers, while assessing how our knowledge has evolved over time, with some attention also given to what questions or concerns remain unanswered. Similarly, in their introductory chapter to this edited volume, Howard and Randazzo point to THE PUZZLE OF JUDICIAL BEHAVIOR, Larry Baum’s 1997 assessment of the state of the judicial behavior field. Howard and Randazzo adopt and build on Baum’s earlier assessment of the key areas of scholarly inquiry in this field. With this book, Howard and Randazzo endeavor to provide “the most up-to-date examinations and analyses that we have on judicial behavior” (p. 2), in addition to specifically highlighting potential future directions for the judicial behavior field.

The ROUTLEDGE HANDBOOK OF JUDICIAL BEHAVIOR is organized into four main sections, “representing the four major areas of judicial behavior research” (p. 2). The first section consists of overviews of the prevalent theories in the judicial behavior field (the Attitudinal Model, Legal Model, and Strategic Model), with later chapters dedicated to issues concerning efforts to measure attitudes and law. This is a fitting way to set the table for the sections to come. The opening chapters on the three competing models provide an excellent assessment of the past, present, and potential future directions of the three competing models of decision making. Less expected, but very much appreciated, were the chapters by Michael A. Bailey and Tom S. Clark on measuring ideology and law, respectively. As Howard and Randazzo acknowledge, “our ability to understand these competing factors is dependent upon accurate measurements of concepts such as attitudes and law” (p. 4), and it is appropriate and useful to provide an assessment of the past, present, and future scholarship on these critical aspects of the judicial behavior field as well.

Part two focuses on the U.S. Supreme Court, examining many of the central questions concerning judging by Supreme Court justices, including those related to legitimacy, selection of Supreme Court justices, opinion writing, and external influencers on judicial behavior. Given that research on the U.S. Supreme Court has historically dominated the judicial behavior field, the chapters in this section all have a lot of heavy lifting to do in terms of laying out the foundational work on each topic and succinctly summarizing the oftentimes-great amount of scholarship that has added to the field in the intervening decades. Even given the extent of the attention given to the U.S. Supreme Court by judicial behavior scholars, however, these chapters also succeed in pointing to unresolved questions that remain even in these relatively crowded parts of the judicial behavior field.

Section three turns its attention to judicial behavior research focusing on state and federal courts beyond the U.S. Supreme Court. [*21] Whereas the judicial behavior field has historically been dominated by research on the U.S. Supreme Court, the years since the publication of Baum’s THE PUZZLE OF JUDICIAL BEHAVIOR have seen a tremendous amount of work done on bringing the judicial behavior inquiry to other American courts. Perhaps most notable on this point is the chapter by Isaac Unah and Ryan Williams on specialized courts, which, as Unah and Williams note, were “virtually ignored” by most political scientists in the United States for much of the twentieth century (p. 280). The chapters in this section thread a nice balance between summarizing previous literature and highlighting the many questions that still remain to be answered with respect to judicial behavior on American courts other than the U.S. Supreme Court. For example, the chapter by Chris W. Bonneau and Heather Marie Rice (entitled “Judicial Selection it the States: A Look Back, A Look Ahead”) acknowledges that even with the recent explosion of high-quality research examining the selection of state court judges, “[t]he most pressing unanswered question has to do with the relationship between campaign contributions and judicial decision making” (p. 346).

The final section of this book, which focuses on comparative judicial politics and transnational courts, best reflects how far the judicial behavior inquiry has been taken in recent years. As Howard and Randazzo note in their introduction, previous overviews of the judicial behavior field would generally not have extended the scope very far beyond the study of American tribunals. As the chapters in this section demonstrate, analyses of judicial behavior in a comparative context allow for the consideration of a host of current and future topics concerning how judges interact within different kinds of political systems and under different constraints. As with the Unah and Williams chapter on specialized courts in Section three, the chapters in this section often have more world-building to do, in terms of explaining the courts being studied to less familiar readers, with relatively less need to summarize the extensive amount of research done to date on, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court.

There is a lot to commend about this book, and it will surely prove to be an invaluable resource for many in the law and courts field for years to come. With the chapters chosen for inclusion in this volume, Howard and Randazzo have cast a wide net. The resulting volume provides insight into research on a comprehensive set of questions concerning the current state of the judicial behavior field. No edited volume on judicial behavior is likely to be perfectly comprehensive, however. For example, there is no chapter in Part 2 dedicated to questions surrounding agenda setting of the U.S. Supreme Court, and perhaps a chapter on issues to gender/race and judging would have been a useful addition to Part 1. While those looking to this book for a current assessment of research on these specific topics may be disappointed, agenda setting, gender, and race are touched on in other substantive chapters. Another way in which Howard and Randazzo have cast a wide net is through the purposeful selection of chapter authors at various stages of their scholarly careers. The chapters in this volume build on the shoulders of giants in the judicial behavior field, but the book benefits from the inclusion of work on less-extensively studied courts as well as with the participation of less senior scholars in the field.

The ROUTLEDGE HANDBOOK OF JUDICIAL BEHAVIOR is a must-read for anyone in the judicial behavior field, and for many teachers and scholars in related fields. The book will be of particular relevance to any current or future graduate students in the law and courts field. The dual focus of providing a snapshot of the literature in each substantive chapter, coupled with attention to lingering questions that still remain will make this book a gold mine for anyone at the beginning of a career studying judiciaries around the world. In addition, the relatively succinct, reader-friendly nature of the substantive chapters make this book very useful for undergraduate teaching. I have already used a preliminary version of the Bonneau and Rice chapter in class, and I will surely be using the book more extensively in undergraduate teaching moving forward. For more seasoned scholars, Howard and Randazzo [*22] have also provided a new and expansive go-to source for current and future research. The individual chapter bibliographies alone are worth combing through for anyone beginning a new project in the judicial behavior field.

In their concluding chapter, Howard and Randazzo reiterate that their two main goals with this book were to provide a “detailed snapshot” of the current state of the judicial behavior literature, and to offer suggestions for new directions of research in this field. Without a doubt, their book succeeds in meeting both of these goals. It is an ambitious endeavor that results in a hefty book which covers a significant amount of ground. What impressed me perhaps most of all with this book was that the individual chapters within it are all remarkably user-friendly and manageable, especially given the large scope covered both in the book as a whole and in the individual chapters. To put it another way, the book ambitiously endeavors to do a lot, but so does each individual chapter, and there is an impressive consistency displayed across the chapters in their quality, scope, and approach.

Howard and Randazzo conclude their book by acknowledging that it is likely an “unattainable goal” to solve “the puzzle of judicial behavior” (p. 513). Rather, they note that perhaps the key question to ask when stepping back to take stock of the judicial behavior field is whether or not we are “making progress” in understanding the puzzle better. The ROUTLEDGE HANDBOOK OF JUDICIAL BEHAVIOR demonstrates that the judicial behavior field is indeed making progress in unlocking this ever-shifting and expanding puzzle. The book also succeeds in acknowledging that while the puzzle will never be fully solved, understanding the puzzle better will not end the inquiry, but will uncover new questions and ways of answering them moving forward. In short, ROUTLEDGE HANDBOOK OF JUDICIAL BEHAVIOR represents an excellent addition to the law and courts field, and it will surely be received as such.


Baum, Lawrence. 1997. THE PUZZLE OF JUDICIAL BEHAVIOR. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

© Copyright 2019 by author, Lisa M. Holmes.