Abstract: The federal judicial hierarchy features several institutions that increase the prospects for legal uniformity, including multimember appellate courts, the institution of dissent, and discretionary high court review. We use an original dataset of death penalty decisions on the Courts of Appeals to evaluate how these institutions interact to influence judging in the hierarchy. First, beginning with three-judge panels, we show the existence of ideological diversity on a panel--and the potential of a dissent--is effective in constraining majorities who might prefer to rule against the preferred outcome of a higher court. Second, we show that dissents are only observed when this ex ante influence fails. Third, we show that dissents influence higher court review in a manner consistent with the preferences of higher courts. Our results demonstrate how ideological heterogeneity on three-judge panels, dissents, and higher court review interact to promote legal consistency in a vast and diverse hierarchy.
Click here to download a pdf copy of the paper.