Tilko Swalve
  • Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Hamburg

Primus Inter Pares? How Social Hierarchy Affects Judicial Deliberations

Working Paper

Many court decisions are made by a group of judges. Despite equal voting rights, some judges influence the decisions more than others. In 1960, Danelski argued that chief judges in a unique position to exert leadership on the bench. However, identifying the chief ’s relative influence has proven difficult. In this paper, I estimate chief-judge effects at the German Federal Court (GFC). Relying on a novel data set of more than 21,000 decisions of the GFC’s criminal panels between 1993 and 2016, I isolate the chief ’s relative influence on case outcomes by exploiting variation in the presence of the panels’ chief judges. The findings suggest that chief judges are almost twice as influential as associate judges. While there is substantial heterogeneity among chief judges’ impact on a case’s decision, chief judge presence overall seems to encourage controversial debate and opinion diversity among judges.