Intrinsic Motivation in Public Service: Theory and Evidence from State Supreme Courts
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 state supreme court cases merged with institutional and biographical information on all (1,700) state supreme court judges for the 50 states of the United States from 1947 to 1994. We exploit variation in the employment conditions of judges over this period of time to measure the effect of these changes 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, they write more well-researched opinions that are cited more often by later judges. When judges are up for election then performance falls, consistent with the hypothesis that election politics is time-consuming. These effects are strongest when judges have more discretion to select their case portfolio, consistent with psychological theories that posit a negative effect of contingency on motivation (e.g. Deci, 1971). Finally, the intrinsic preference for quality appears to be higher among judges selected by non-partisan elections than among those selected by partisan elections.
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