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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Strategic Information Acquisition and Mixed Judicial Panels (co-authored with Matthew Spitzer of USC Law School)


In the last fifteen years, a number of empirical studies of multi-member judicial panels have documented a phenomenon popularly known as "panel effects." Two principal findings of this literature are: (1) the inclusion of even a single (non-pivotal) member from outside the dominant ideological on the panel can induce induces the panel to reverse "like minded" administrative agencies more frequently than would a panel dominated wholly by the majority ideology; and (2) when mixed panels do not reverse, they frequently issue unanimous decisions. These apparently moderating effects of mixed panel composition pose a challenge to conventional median voter theory. In the face of this challenge, many scholars have offered their own explanation for panel effects (including collegiality; deliberation, whistle-blowing, and others). In this paper, we propose a general model that (among other things) predicts panel effects as a byproduct of strategic information acquisition. The kernel of our argument is that (non-pivotal) minority members of mixed panels have incentives to engage in costly searches for information in cases where the majority members would rationally choose not to do so. As a result, the inclusion of minority members may induce greater information production in a way that increases the likelihood that a mixed panel will overturn ideologically allied agency actors. Our informational account -- if true -- has normative implications for the composition of judicial panels in particular, and for deliberative groups more generally.

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