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Strategic Agenda Setting and the Influence of Public Opinion on the U.S. Supreme Court

February 20, 2014

Preliminary draft, comments welcome!

Scholars have long debated how public opinion influences the Supreme Court’s policy decisions. Yet, previous research on this issue has focused exclusively on the potential effects of public opinion on the Court’s final decisions. Because the Court sets its own agenda, the justices may strategically anticipate the public’s reaction to its decisions and filter out cases that would put the Court out of step with the public’s preferences. Examining the ideological composition of the Court’s discretionary docket over time, we present evidence that public opinion may be an important motivation to the justices as early in the process as the agenda stage. We also investigate the extent to which the observed effects of public opinion on the merits are a result of the public’s influence on the Court’s agenda decisions. We find the overall effect of public opinion occurs principally through the type of cases the Court selects to review.

From → Working papers

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