Consensus, Disorder, and Ideology on the Supreme Court

37 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2010 Last revised: 30 Mar 2011

See all articles by Paul H. Edelman

Paul H. Edelman

Vanderbilt University - Law School

David Klein

Eastern Michigan University

Stefanie A. Lindquist

University of Texas at Austin - School of Law

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: March 24, 2011


Ideological models are widely accepted as the basis for many academic studies of the Supreme Court because of their power in predicting the justices’ decision making behavior. Not all votes are easily explained or well predicted by attitudes, however. Consensus in Supreme Court voting, particularly the extreme consensus of unanimity, has often puzzled Court observers who adhere to ideological accounts of judicial decision making. Are consensus and (ultimately) unanimity driven by extreme factual scenarios or extreme lower court rulings such that even the most liberal and most conservative justice can agree on the case disposition? Or are they driven by other, non-attitudinal influences on judicial decisions? In this paper, we rely on a measure of deviations from expected ideological patterns in the justices’ voting to assess whether ideological models provide an adequate explanation of consensus on the Court. We find that case factors that predict voting disorder also predict consensus. Based on that finding, we conclude that consensus on the Court cannot be explained by ideology alone; rather, it often results from ideology’s being outweighed by other influences on justices’ decisions.

Keywords: Supreme Court, consensus, attitudinalism

Suggested Citation

Edelman, Paul H. and Klein, David and Lindquist, Stefanie A., Consensus, Disorder, and Ideology on the Supreme Court (March 24, 2011). Vanderbilt Law and Economics Research Paper No. 10-07, Vanderbilt Public Law Research Paper No. 10-11, U of Texas Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 167, U of Texas Law, Law and Econ Research Paper No. 172, Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Paul H. Edelman (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
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David Klein

Eastern Michigan University ( email )

Eastern Michigan University
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
United States

Stefanie A. Lindquist

University of Texas at Austin - School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States
512-232-1319 (Phone)

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