Judges as Members of Small Groups
Virtually all appellate courts use groups of judges to decide cases. Accordingly, small group theory is a useful perspective for investigating appellate court decision making. In particular, scholarship about group cognition can help make sense of when we can expect judges to rely on legal (e.g., precedent) versus nonlegal (e.g., political preference) factors in the choices they make. In addition, research on the roles and status of group members in relationship to leadership and conformity can help us understand when certain formal (e.g., chief judge) and informal (e.g., freshman judge) roles are likely to structure judicial choice. More generally, placing appellate courts in a small group framework can aid in better understanding the quality of adjudication by focusing on how groups aggregate the expertise of individual group members to produce group outcomes.
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