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Supreme Court Unity and Public Opinion: An Experimental Study

38 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 22 Jul 2011

Michael F. Salamone

Washington State University

Date Written: 2009


The notion that judicial unanimity increases a decision’s popular acceptance while dissents may fuel political resistance is one that is often contemplated but rarely tested. It is clear from the writings of several federal judges and Supreme Court justices, including Learned Hand, Charles Evan Hughes, Edward White, and Earl Warren, that this is a commonly held belief in judicial circles. However, the scholarly evidence that Court opinions can move public opinion at all, a necessary precondition for this effect, is mixed. This paper addresses the question with an experimental research design. In the experiment, subjects were given manipulated articles covering the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London. Although the Court actually decided the case by a five-to-four vote, the size of the majority varied across experimental treatment groups. The subjects were then surveyed to measure their attitudes toward the decision, the policy it advanced, and the Court as an institution. The results showed that, for the most part, the level of consensus did not impact the participants’ opinions, and where it did, it did so in a manner inconsistent with existing theory.

Suggested Citation

Salamone, Michael F., Supreme Court Unity and Public Opinion: An Experimental Study (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

Michael F. Salamone (Contact Author)

Washington State University ( email )

Pullman, WA 99164
United States

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