Agenda Control, the Median Justice, and the Majority Opinion on the U.S. Supreme Court
American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 51, pp. 891-906, October 2007
43 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2007
Some scholars argue that the author of the majority opinion exercises the most influence over the Court's opinion-writing process, and so can determine what becomes Court policy, at least within the limits of what some Court majority finds acceptable. Other students of the Court have suggested that the Court's median justice effectively dictates the content of the majority opinion: whatever policy the median justice most wants, she can get. We test these competing models with data on Supreme Court decision-making during the Burger Court (1969-1986). While we find substantial evidence for both models, the agenda control model gains greater support. This suggests that opinions on the Court on each case are driven, in general, by the interaction of three key variables: the policy preferences of the majority opinion author, the policy preferences of the median justice, and the location of the legal status quo.
Keywords: U.S. Supreme Court, Agenda Control
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