Building Blocks of the American State: Investigating the Relationship between Courts and Parties

Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 16 Jan 2013

See all articles by Gregory Elinson

Gregory Elinson

Harvard University - Harvard Law School

Date Written: September 1, 2011


In the tumultuous decade following the Civil War, members of the Republican Party wrestled with deep uncertainty over the direction of their party’s ideology. Efforts to reconstruct the Republican political identity following the end of formal hostilities and the emancipation of African-American slaves were not limited to the nation’s legislative and executive branches. As I demonstrate in this paper and as exemplified by the Slaughterhouse decision, the justices of the Supreme Court actively participated in this crucial discussion. I characterize this development in terms of a new model of judicial behavior, one that stands in contrast to the prevailing view of judges as mere conduits for an existing partisan agenda. Through a close examination of the case history and primary documents relating to the Slaughterhouse decision, I argue that we can improve our understanding of judicial behavior by conceptualizing Supreme Court justices as partisan political entrepreneurs or coalitional spokesmen, deeply interested and invested in the issue positions adopted by the party with which they are affiliated. Moreover, I consider the ways in which other partisan actors respond to the attempted political interventions of judges.

Keywords: Supreme Court, judicial behavior, Reconstruction, Slaughterhouse Cases, partisan entrepreneur

Suggested Citation

Elinson, Gregory, Building Blocks of the American State: Investigating the Relationship between Courts and Parties (September 1, 2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Gregory Elinson (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Law School ( email )

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Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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