The value of vagueness: Delegation, defiance, and judicial opinions


Journal Article

An established line of research demonstrates that vague judicial opinions are less likely to be implemented than clear opinions. Vague opinions thus present a puzzle. Why would judges craft opinions that risk noncompliance? We argue that the relationships between judges and other policy makers in separation-of-powers systems are central to understanding this puzzle. Opinion vagueness can reflect efforts to resolve core tradeoffs associated with judicial policymaking that bear some resemblance to standard accounts of political delegation. Vagueness offers judges the ability to manage their uncertainty over policy outcomes and to hide likely defiance from public view. At the same time, vagueness removes a central source of pressure for compliance that judges can place on other policy makers. Using a game-theoretic model, we identify conditions under which judges use vagueness precisely as legislatures use statutory discretion. We also demonstrate conditions under which judges use vagueness in ways unanticipated by standard delegation accounts. © 2008, Midwest Political Science Association.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Staton, JK; Vanberg, G

Published Date

  • July 1, 2008

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 52 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 504 - 519

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1540-5907

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0092-5853

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1111/j.1540-5907.2008.00326.x

Citation Source

  • Scopus