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Federal Court Unity and Media Coverage of Racial Integration Cases

27 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2010 Last revised: 22 Jul 2011

Michael F. Salamone

Washington State University

Date Written: March 29, 2010


Numerous legal scholars and practitioners, included Earl Warren (Klarman 2004), Charles Evan Hughes (1928), and Learned Hand (1958), have expressed concern that dissenting judicial opinions may damage public opinion of the court and stir resistance to the court majority’s rulings. Though the topic has received little empirical testing overall, a recent study confirms the plausibility of this assertion (Zink, Spriggs, and Scott 2009). However, this potential effect is rendered meaningless if the news media do not convey the courts divisiveness in the first place. Thus, one must ask, how much news coverage do court decisions get? To what degree is the court’s unity or disunity highlighted in these stories? Are dissents associated with more or less media coverage of a case? To begin answering these questions, I present a test case on the local newspaper coverage school desegregation busing cases in the United States Courts of Appeals from 1965 to 1989. By using this case study in this venue, the issue can be held constant across numerous cases in various regions decided with differing levels of unity. The results indicate that these cases are frequently covered, that they do often mention the court’s vote on the ruling, particular when that vote is divided, and that divided opinions are indeed more likely to receive attention from the news media than unanimous opinions are.

Suggested Citation

Salamone, Michael F., Federal Court Unity and Media Coverage of Racial Integration Cases (March 29, 2010). Western Political Science Association 2010 Annual Meeting Paper . Available at SSRN:

Michael F. Salamone (Contact Author)

Washington State University ( email )

Pullman, WA 99164
United States

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