How public opinion constrains the U.S. supreme court

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Although scholars increasingly acknowledge a contemporaneous relationship between public opinion and Supreme Court decisions, debate continues as to why this relationship exists. Does public opinion directly influence decisions or do justices simply respond to the same social forces that simultaneously shape the public mood? To answer this question, we first develop a strategy to control for the justices' attitudinal change that stems from the social forces that influence public opinion. We then propose a theoretical argument that predicts strategic justices should be mindful of public opinion even in cases when the public is unlikely to be aware of the Court's activities. The results suggest that the influence of public opinion on Supreme Court decisions is real, substantively important, and most pronounced in nonsalient cases. © 2010, Midwest Political Science Association.




Casillas, C. J., Enns, P. K., & Wohlfarth, P. C. (2011). How public opinion constrains the U.S. supreme court. American Journal of Political Science, 55(1), 74–88.

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