On Consensus in State Supreme Courts
Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, IL, April 12-15, 2007
35 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2007
In this paper, we examine patterns of decision making in state supreme courts, focusing on levels of unanimity, dissenting and concurring opinions, and the forces that shape individual judge decisions to promote unanimity. Our dependent variable is the probability a judge writes or signs on to a majority opinion versus writing or joining a concurring or dissenting opinion. Specifically, we order the possible forms of behavior a judge can engage in from least consensual to most consensual. We hypothesize this will vary as a function of personal characteristics of the judges, characteristics of the cases, decision rules and norms of the court, and method of judicial selection. We test our hypotheses using the judge-level state supreme court database (Bonneau, Brace, and Arceneaux 2006). This database contains information about the cases, courts, and judges for all cases decided by state supreme courts from 1995-1998. The results from our analysis suggest that the norms of consensus observed in state supreme courts come from both uniform and different sources. We argue that focusing on a single court, or a single court over time, could lead to an exaggerated impression of the importance of intra-court processes for promoting accord or discord.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation