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Whose Ox is Being Gored? When Attitudinalism Meets Federalism

36 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2006  

Michael C. Dorf

Cornell Law School

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: Spring 2006


Empirical research indicates that factors such as an individual Justice's general political ideology play a substantial role in the decision of Supreme Court cases. Although this pattern holds in federalism cases, views about the proper allocation of authority between the state and federal governments - independent of whether the particular outcome in any given case is "liberal" or "conservative" - can sometimes be decisive, as demonstrated by the 2005 decision in Gonzales v. Raich, in which "conservative" Justices voted to invalidate a strict federal drug provision in light of California's legalization of medical marijuana, and "liberal" Justices voted to uphold the federal law. Proponents of a strongly legal realist view of the Court might argue that views about federalism are themselves ideological, or that Justices who commit themselves to defending or opposing states' rights do so because of a calculation about the likely long-term consequences of such a position. But they do so only by draining the realist enterprise of its descriptive and normative power, because, as this Essay argues, genuine principles about federalism are distinctly legal, even if formed on the basis of long-term calculations about the likely effects of various views about federalism. Taking federalism as a point of departure, this Essay describes and justifies a method by which Justices choose the legal principles that bind them.

Suggested Citation

Dorf, Michael C., Whose Ox is Being Gored? When Attitudinalism Meets Federalism (Spring 2006). Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 06-102. Available at SSRN: or

Michael C. Dorf (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States


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