Answering the Call of the Court

Answering the Call of the Court: How Justices and Litigants Set the Supreme Court Agenda

Vanessa A. Baird
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Answering the Call of the Court
    Book Description:

    The U.S. Supreme Court is the quintessential example of a court that expanded its agenda into policy areas that were once reserved for legislatures. Yet scholars know very little about what causes attention to various policy areas to ebb and flow on the Supreme Court's agenda. Vanessa A. Baird's Answering the Call of the Court: How Justices and Litigants Set the Supreme Court Agenda represents the first scholarly attempt to connect justices' priorities, litigants' strategies, and aggregate policy outputs of the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Most previous studies on the Supreme Court's agenda examine case selection, but Baird demonstrates that the agenda-setting process begins long before justices choose which cases they will hear. When justices signal their interest in a particular policy area, litigants respond by sponsoring well-crafted cases in those policy areas. Approximately four to five years later, the Supreme Court's agenda in those areas expands, with cases that are comparatively more politically important and divisive than other cases the Court hears. From issues of discrimination and free expression to welfare policy, from immigration to economic regulation, strategic supporters of litigation pay attention to the goals of Supreme Court justices and bring cases they can use to achieve those goals.

    Since policy making in courts is iterative, multiple well-crafted cases are needed for courts to make comprehensive policy. Baird argues that judicial policy-making power depends on the actions of policy entrepreneurs or other litigants who systematically respond to the priorities and preferences of Supreme Court justices.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3044-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Throughout American history, the U.S. Supreme Court has played a major role in shaping the character of public policy. The issues that have garnered the Court’s attention, though, have changed through this time. The Court spent its first century cementing both national and judicial supremacy. Early in its second century, it had a large hand in preventing Congress from regulating the economy. After a confrontation with President Roosevelt over the New Deal, the Supreme Court then turned its attention from economic regulation to other issues, such as protecting disadvantaged minorities. It revolutionized due process, including the specifics of the criminal...

  5. ONE The Supreme Court in the U.S. Legal System: Appeals and Case Selection
    (pp. 17-32)

    The federal judicial system, the apex of which is the Supreme Court, is one of the three branches of the national government, along with the executive and legislative branches. Whereas Congress legislates and the president executes the law, the Supreme Court’s job is to be the final arbiter of what the law says. Courts are political institutions in that they often decide who gets what and how much, but they are legal institutions in that they justify their decisions with various legal rationales, rationales that are more or less logically tied to the wording or intent of the law, or...

  6. TWO Explaining the Supreme Court’s Policy Cycles
    (pp. 33-72)

    Scholars have long recognized that knowledge of the agenda-setting process is essential to a full understanding of the political power of an institution. Schattschneider (1960) calls agenda setting the “supreme instrument of power,” and Bachrach and Baratz (1962) regard the agenda-setting process as one of the “two faces of power.” The power to put an issue on the agenda—or take an issue off—is one of the most important features of institutional power.

    When an issue is said to be “on the agenda,” it could mean, among other things, that the media is paying attention to it, members of...

  7. THREE Immigrants’ Rights, Welfare, and Federalism
    (pp. 73-82)

    On November 8, 1994, Californians voted 59 percent to 41 percent for the ballot initiative Proposition 187, a measure meant to deny all state public assistance to illegal aliens, except emergency health care. Illegal immigrants had already been denied federal benefits, and therefore, the only effect of the ballot initiative was to deny them access to education and prenatal care provided by state funds. Eight days after the proposition was passed, its constitutionality was challenged in federal court.

    Developing the legal argument for the challenge was straightforward. Opponents of Proposition 187 depended primarily on two previous Supreme Court decisions to...

  8. FOUR Cyclical Patterns on the Supreme Court’s Agenda
    (pp. 83-120)

    Earlier chapters have concentrated on how litigants use information from previous cases about Supreme Court justices’ preferences and priorities to develop their litigation strategies. This chapter now turns the focus to the aggregate patterns of Supreme Court attention to various policy areas over time. The theory is that important cases in certain policy areas will lead to increased attention by the Court to these same policy areas after some number of years. The examples in chapters 2 and 3 show that there is often a four-or five-year lag between cases that seem to inspire other cases. The questions that this...

  9. FIVE Corroborative Analyses: The Political and Legal Context of the Supreme Court
    (pp. 121-146)

    The previous chapter showed that important Supreme Court cases in certain policy areas result in an increased number of cases in those policy areas four and five years later. Without data on the number of cases that litigants decide to support, it is difficult to know whether any of those resulting cases were actually supported by political or legal entrepreneurs who were responding to what they perceived as the Court’s priorities. Furthermore, there is no data on the number of cases within certain policy areas in the pool of petitions for a writ of certiorari; inferences are made from the...

  10. SIX The Impact of Moderate Justices’ Preferences on the Ideological Placement of Future Cases
    (pp. 147-174)

    The previous chapters in this book presented evidence that when justices reveal their policy priorities through the decisions that they make, the Supreme Court’s agenda, after a delay of some years, adjusts to reflect those priorities more accurately. Sponsors of litigation evidently seek out and litigate cases that seem particularly likely to draw the attention of Supreme Court justices. In this way, justices acquire additional cases in policy areas that they consider a priority. By revealing their preferences to potential litigants, justices effectively set the Court’s agenda four and five years ahead of time. By paying close attention to what...

  11. Conclusions
    (pp. 175-186)

    This book contributes to our understanding of the symbiotic relationship between high courts and policy entrepreneurs. It outlines a strategy that high courts can use to focus their attention on particular policy areas, thereby increasing the Supreme Court’s potential influence over those policy areas. Courts cannot set their agenda,a priori, to include a given policy area without litigation occurring in that area. Interest groups and justices engage in a symbiotic relationship when their policy goals are similar in nature. Interest groups receive information about Supreme Court justices’ policy interests from previous decisions. When policy entrepreneurs perceive that justices prioritize...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 187-200)
    (pp. 201-218)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 219-225)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 226-226)