Making Sense of the Supreme Court—Public Opinion Relationship

Authored by: Peter K. Enns , Patrick C. Wohlfarth

Routledge Handbook of Judicial Behavior

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  October  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138913356
eBook ISBN: 9781315691527
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315691527.ch11

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Abstract

Does life tenure, legal precedent, judicial ideology, and the facts of the case insulate U.S. Supreme Court justices from the public’s shifting preferences, or do Supreme Court decisions follow public opinion? Despite decades of scholarship on this topic, the question of a Court–opinion connection—and the precise causal mechanism linking them together—still invites disparate perspectives, evidence, and substantive conclusions. In this chapter, we summarize the diverging theories, analytical approaches, and empirical results in the debate over public opinion’s relationship with Supreme Court decisions. We then offer a theory of how the mass public, despite being generally uninformed about judicial decisions, can influence the decisions of the highest court in the land. We then discuss the sizeable evidence in support of this perspective, how this relationship could be changing in the modern era, and avenues for future research.

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