Coordination and Innovation in Judiciaries: Correct Law versus Consistent Law

Mehdi Shadmehr, Sepehr Shahshahani, Charles Cameron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


We identify the coordination consideration among judges who do not have formal authority over each other, and investigate its consequences for their decisions and legal innovations. Coordination concerns arise because judges value the consistent application of law. To mitigate their strategic uncertainty, judges overweight interpretations that are visible throughout the judiciary (e.g., prominent judges’ opinions) because their visibility facilitates coordination. This creates a tradeoff between the consistent and correct application of law—the two desiderata of judicial decision-making. In particular, anticipating overreactions to their opinions, some prominent judges refrain from expressing their informed opinions. Paradoxically, the propensity to refrain is strongest in prominent judges who care most about the correct application of law. From their perspective, excessive concern for uniformity in the judiciary overrides the informational value of expressing informed opinions. We explore the implications for issuing narrow or broad opinions, the stickiness of precedent, and the practice of stare decisis. We provide concrete examples from contract, property, tort, and constitutional law that support our theoretical mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-89
Number of pages29
JournalQuarterly Journal of Political Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 24 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


  • Beauty contests
  • Coordination
  • Informal authority
  • Legal innovation
  • Narrow opinions
  • Non-hierarchical judiciary
  • Stare decisis


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