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date: 21 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Social background theory formalizes and tests the intuition that judges’ attributes and experiences will affect their rulings. Attributes can include race, gender, sexual orientation, sexual identity, religion, and socioeconomic background. Experience can include education, occupation, and political activism. Social background theory is a positive theory rather than a normative one: it treats these factors as an explanation for a judge’s actions. Social background theory has a history of intentional scholarly integration of ideas and methods in other fields. The theory can be seen as evolving through four stages tied to that integration: Legal Realism, behavioralism, new institutionalism, and computation. After briefly assessing the contributions and limitations of the theory, the chapter ends with a proposal for a relevancy threshold for social background research.

Keywords: social background theory, judicial politics, federal courts, U.S. Supreme Court, race, gender, Legal Realism, behavioralism, institutional economics, criminal justice

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