The Supreme Court’s (Surprising?) Indifference to Public Opinion
Political Research Quarterly
35 Pages Posted: 30 Oct 2018 Last revised: 28 Oct 2020
Date Written: September 3, 2019
Does the Supreme Court care what the public thinks? For decades, articles in leading political science journals have consistently answered in the affirmative. They regularly report a significant, positive relationship between public opinion and Supreme Court output. Given this accepted empirical fact, attention has turned to how or when public opinion affects the Court. Theories that attempt to answer these questions, however, face unresolved challenges: the mechanisms are left unexplained, and the studies are mutually contradictory. We advance this literature by showing that the empirical “fact” driving the search for a workable theory is actually ephemeral. To be clear, we do not attempt to prove the Court does not respond to public opinion. We do demonstrate, however, that contrary to twenty-five years of scholarship, there is no good empirical evidence suggesting it does. Doing so returns the field to the central question of whether opinion matters.
Keywords: Supreme Court, Public Opinion, Judicial Politics, Empirical Legal Studies
JEL Classification: K00, K40, K41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation