Speaking Up: Women and Dissenting Behavior in the Supreme Court of Canada

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The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) has stronger norms of consensus and preferences for unanimous decisions than its American counterpart. Given this powerful preference for collegial and unanimous decisions, what causes it to break down? Previous literature has left this question largely unexamined, and no empirical research examines how gender affects decisions to dissent on the Supreme Court of Canada. This article thus fills this lacuna by analyzing the role of gender in dissenting behavior on the Supreme Court of Canada from 1984 to 2015. We analyze dissenting behavior in criminal and civil liberties cases, as well as sexual assault and equality cases, which may drive previously identified gender voting differences. We find that women dissent more frequently than their male peers, especially when their policy preferences diverge. Furthermore, we examine three competing theories of social dynamic panel effects to determine how the increased presence of women impact women’s decision to dissent. We find evidence of some self-silencing by women, where women become emboldened to dissent more as more women join the panel. Gender diversification explains dissenting behavior at the Canadian Supreme Court more accurately and across a broader array of case categories than institutional or case-specific legal factors.




Johnson, S. W., & Reid, R. A. (2020). Speaking Up: Women and Dissenting Behavior in the Supreme Court of Canada. Justice System Journal, 41(3), 191–219. https://doi.org/10.1080/0098261X.2020.1768185

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