Policy and Disposition Coalitions on the Supreme Court of the United States

28 Pages Posted: 17 Jul 2010 Last revised: 24 Oct 2010

See all articles by Deborah Beim

Deborah Beim

Yale University

Charles M. Cameron

Princeton University - Department of Political Science; Princeton University - Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

Lewis A. Kornhauser

New York University School of Law

Date Written: October 23, 2010

Abstract

Empirical studies of collegial courts typically analyze the dispositional votes of judges. Theoretical models of collegial courts, by contrast, typically assume that judges care about, and choose, policies. In this paper, we use data on the behavior of justices of the Supreme Court of the United States (from the Spaeth Supreme Court Database, 1953-2008) to show that this discrepancy is not innocuous: dispositional votes are different from policy choices, and that difference has implications for understanding the doctrine the Court produces. We present evidence that disposition coalitions differ from policy coalitions in a significant number of cases, and argue they differ along ideological lines. For this reason, we claim dispositional votes are not an adequate proxy for policy choice.

Our preliminary analysis establishes two other claims. First, we show that within a natural court, policy coalitions are diverse rather than homogeneous. Second, we present evidence that the ideological content of opinions moves in tandem with the ideological makeup of the policy coalition supporting the majority opinion.

Suggested Citation

Beim, Deborah and Cameron, Charles M. and Kornhauser, Lewis A., Policy and Disposition Coalitions on the Supreme Court of the United States (October 23, 2010). 5th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1641542 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1641542

Deborah Beim (Contact Author)

Yale University ( email )

New Haven, CT 06520
United States

Charles M. Cameron

Princeton University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Corwin Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544-1013
United States

Princeton University - Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544-1021
United States

Lewis A. Kornhauser

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States
(212) 998-6175 (Phone)
(212) 995-4341 (Fax)

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