A Court of Appeals in a Rational-Choice Model of Supreme Court Decision-Making
INSTITUTIONAL GAMES AND THE U.S. SUPREME COURT, James R. Rogers, Roy B. Flemming, & Jon R. Bond, eds., University of Virginia Press, 2006
Posted: 18 Sep 2007
The Supreme Court's place at the top of a judicial hierarchy is no guarantee that the lower courts will automatically follow its decisions. This mean that compliance and implementation by lower courts is problematic, especially in light of the relative handful of cases heard by the Supreme Court compared to the many thousands of cases passing through the lower courts, almost none of which will ever be reviewed by the Supreme Court. This paper develops a formal model of lower-court interactions with the Supreme Court. A key issue, it turns out, is whether the Supreme Court wants to comply with its own previous decisions. If the Court's composition has changed or if some justices' policy preferences have changed, some Court majority may prefer to modify the Court's previous policy if some appeals court decision provides the opportunity. So if an appeals court does not follow some previous Supreme Court policy, this appeals court is not necessarily being noncompliant; a majority on the new Supreme Court might actually prefer the appeals court's new policy to the old Supreme Court policy. For this reason, understanding the conditions under which the Court itself will maintain or modify its own previous decisions is critical to understanding the issue of appeals court compliance. The results from this model help clarify this issue.
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