“Justice Grayed, Delayed, and Aged,” with Univ. of Wisconsin’s Ryan Owens


As part of our Spring 2020 series of public talks, University of Wisconsin Professor of American Politics Ryan Owens will present on the “The Effects of Cognitive Aging on Federal Circuit Court Judges” (see abstract below). Free and open to the public, Prof. Owens’ talk will be held on February 28 at 3:30pm in Jesse Hall 410. It is part of our “Pursuit of Happiness Hour” Friday Colloquium Series, made possible with the support of Logboat Brewing Co.


Cognitive aging affects all humans. For many people, it can lead to significant concerns in their daily lives. For federal judges who enjoy lifetime tenure, cognitive aging can lead to problematic constitutional consequences. We connect neuroscience theory on human cognitive aging to the work of federal appellate judges. Our empirical results show that cognitive aging influences how judges behave. Aged judges require more time than their younger colleagues to draft their opinions. Moreover, the data demonstrate that older judges rely on the cognitive shortcut of ideology to compensate for increased cognitive costs. These findings raise important normative questions about the institution of lifetime tenure for federal judges.

Ryan Owens received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Washington University and his J.D. from University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he currently serves as George C. and Carmella P. Edwards Professor of American Politics, Director of the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership, and an affiliate faculty member of the UW Law School. His scholarship has been published in the American Journal of Political Science, Political Research Quarterly, the Georgetown Law Journal, and the William & Mary and University of Illinois Law Reviews, among other places. He is an Honorary Fellow at the Institute for Legal Studies, and his research has been funded by grants from the NSF, Harvard Provost, Center for Empirical Research in the Law, and George H.W. Bush Library Foundation.