Specializing the Courts
by Lawrence Baum
University of Chicago Press, 2010
Cloth: 978-0-226-03954-1 | Paper: 978-0-226-03955-8 | Electronic: 978-0-226-03956-5
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226039565.001.0001


Most Americans think that judges should be, and are, generalists who decide a wide array of cases. Nonetheless, we now have specialized courts in many key policy areas. Specializing the Courts provides the first comprehensive analysis of this growing trend toward specialization in the federal and state court systems.

Lawrence Baum incisively explores the scope, causes, and consequences of judicial specialization in four areas that include most specialized courts: foreign policy and national security, criminal law, economic issues involving the government, and economic issues in the private sector. Baum examines the process by which court systems in the United States have become increasingly specialized and the motives that have led to the growth of specialization. He also considers the effects of judicial specialization on the work of the courts by demonstrating that under certain conditions, specialization can and does have fundamental effects on the policies that courts make. For this reason, the movement toward greater specialization constitutes a major change in the judiciary.


Lawrence Baum is professor of political science at Ohio State University. His most recent book Judges and Their Audiences won the 2007 Pritchett Award for best book on law and courts.


“Lawrence Baum knows how to do it well, and this book is no exception. Crisply written and elegant, with clear documentation, Baum’s work is likely to be just as significant as the trend towards judicial specialization. I can think of no comparable treatment of specialized courts as a whole—so much so that this book may spark an entirely new genre of court studies. Widely appealing not only to scholars in the fields of law, political science, and sociology, but to general readers alike, Specializing the Courts is a landmark treatment of a very important phenomenon, written by a major scholar, encyclopedic in its range and depth. It will be the go-to source on this topic for years to come.”
— Charles R. Epp, University of Kansas

“Lawrence Blum has done it again. He has written a book that cried out to be written and has done so exceedingly well. Specializing the Courts is a monumental statement that the obscurity of specialized courts is fast coming to an end because of the growing ‘movement’ toward specialization of the judicial function. This book is the most illuminating account of judicial specialization to date and its coverage is exceptional, in both breadth and depth. In researching and documenting the historical trajectory of judicial specialization, Baum uncovers detailed information about obscure, even strange, specialized courts that lay readers and even informed observers are likely to find illuminating and intriguing. This will be a welcome addition for scholars and students in several fields, as it fills an important vacuum in our knowledge of American court systems and in particular, our understanding of specialization as a structural attribute of the courts.”—Isaac Unah, University of North Carolina
— Issac Unah

“This is the first book to deal with the subject of specialized courts in a comprehensive manner. It succeeds masterfully. Specializing the Courts nicely illustrates the use of case histories as a method for reaching systematic and theoretically interesting conclusions. Baum’s argument—the origins and consequences of judicial specialization vary systematically over time and across courts—will appeal to scholars of both social science and legal studies.”—Forrest Maltzman, George Washington University
— Forrest Maltzman


List of Tables



One: A First Look at Judicial Specialization

Questions to Address

Extent: The Landscape of Judicial Specialization

Plan of the Book

Appendix: The Scholarship on Judicial Specialization

Two: Perspectives on Causes and Consequences

Consequences: The Impact of Judicial Specialization

Causes: The Sources of Judicial Specialization

Appendix: Research Strategy

Three: Foreign Policy and Internal Security

Overseas Courts

Military Justice

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts

The Removal Court


Four: Criminal Cases

Promoting Efficiency

Occasional Efforts to Attack Crime with Sanctions

Socialized Courts in the Progressive Era

Problem-solving Courts of the Current Era


Five: Economic Issues: Government Litigation






Corporate Governance: The Delaware Courts

Business Courts



The Causes of Specialization

The Consequences of Specialization

Evaluating Judicial Specialization

The Future of Judicial Specialization