‘For the Times they Are A-Changin’: Explaining Voting Patterns of U.S. Supreme Court Justices through Identification of Micro-Publics

28 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2009 Last revised: 21 Jun 2014

Jeff Yates

Binghamton University - Department of Political Science

Justin A Moeller

University of Georgia

Brian Levey

University of Georgia

Date Written: February 13, 2014

Abstract

In assessing how the social forces of public opinion shape U.S. Supreme Court justices’ decision making, scholars have traditionally considered public opinion as somewhat of a monolith. In other words, it has been presumed that there is one, singular public opinion and that it affects the individual justices in largely the same fashion. We suggest that it is more likely the case that justices’ world views are informed and shaped by a myriad of social concerns and group identities upon which these individuals structure and process their experiences and develop and refine their personal schemas.

While some have already begun to question the proposition of a monolithic public opinion influence on judicial behavior and have begun to think carefully about what we term the “micro-publics” that may inform Supreme Court justices’ decision making, the more tangible questions of whether justices respond to publics that are distinguishable from broad-based national public opinion and what those micro-publics might be remains largely unanswered. In this paper we offer useful insights toward addressing this important puzzle in judicial decision making by providing a direct empirical test of the proposition that justices' case voting behavior is influenced by distinct social groups or micro-publics with which they identify.

Our study focuses on the potential influence of localized and personal micro-publics and the possibility of partisan based elite influence on judicial behavior. We test our hypotheses by analyzing Supreme Court justice voting on civil liberties cases from 1977 to 2000 and find encouraging initial support for our theory.

Keywords: supreme court, social psychology, group identity, regression, statistical, attitudinal, strategic, case, public opinion, greenhouse effect, audiences, justices

Suggested Citation

Yates, Jeff and Moeller, Justin A and Levey, Brian, ‘For the Times they Are A-Changin’: Explaining Voting Patterns of U.S. Supreme Court Justices through Identification of Micro-Publics (February 13, 2014). 5th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1434250 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1434250

Jeff L. Yates (Contact Author)

Binghamton University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Binghamton, NY 13902
United States
607-777-2296 (Phone)

Justin A Moeller

University of Georgia ( email )

Athens, GA 30602-6254
United States

Brian P. Levey

University of Georgia ( email )

Athens, GA 30602-6254
United States

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