Who's minding the gates? the effects of institutional norms on judicial behavior in immigration
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The dissertation is a study of the effect of institutional norms on the judicial behavior of Supreme Court and Federal Circuit Courts of Appeals judges in immigration cases. Studies of judicial behavior generally focus on individual characteristics of the judges, their religion and ideology, for instance. The point of departure of this research approach is that it differentiates between the distinct institutional norms that govern specific levels of the judiciary. I conceptualize institutional norms as both abstract cognitive structures and intuitional rules and arrangements. I argue that while all levels of the judiciary are bound by the same set of cognitive structures, structural rules and operations are specific to each level of the judiciary. While cognitive structures dictate the range of possible and viable legal reasoning, rules and arrangements specific to each court influence judges to favor particular modes of legal reasoning. The primary data of the study consists of 1,727 legal opinions on immigration from the US Supreme Court and Federal Circuit Courts of Appeals from two time periods, 1883-1893 and 1990-2000. These opinions were content analyzed to identify patterns of legal reasoning. The findings from this original data set show that while notions of national sovereignty and congressional plenary power preoccupies the Supreme Court, the Circuit Courts of Appeals are preoccupied with issues of procedural due process. The central research question in the project is, “Given that both level of the courts are working with the same set of laws, why do the two levels of the judiciary chose to emphasize different modes of legal reasoning?” This project demonstrates the processes and mechanisms by which institutional settings affect the way judges perceive their duties and roles and in turn, the kinds of legal reasoning they prefer. A key assumption is that intuitional norms better explain judicial behavior than behaviorialist or doctrinal approaches. The findings have several important theoretical implications for the study of immigration law, the courts, and institutional development. These include a call for the reevaluation of the factors that influence judicial decision-making, especially the manner in which decision-making is tied to institutional contexts.