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Intrinsic Motivation in Public Service: Theory and Evidence from State Supreme Courts

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This paper provides a theoretical and empirical analysis of the intrinsic preferences of state appellate court judges. We construct a panel data set using published decisions from all state supreme courts from 1947 to 1994. We estimate the effects of changes in judges’ employment conditions on a number of measures of judicial performance. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that judges are intrinsically motivated to provide high-quality decisions and that at the margin they prefer quality over quantity. When judges face less time pressure—whether from the introduction of an intermediate appellate court, the weakening of electoral demands, or an increased salary—they write more well-researched opinions that are cited more often by other judges. These effects are strongest when judges have more discretion to select their portfolios of cases.

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