Academic journal article Albany Law Review

State Supreme Courts and Shared Networking: The Diffusion of Education Policy

Academic journal article Albany Law Review

State Supreme Courts and Shared Networking: The Diffusion of Education Policy

Article excerpt


Studies of state supreme courts recognize the policy-making role of state courts, but often assume the decisions made by each court are independent of all other peer courts. While it is true that courts are independent from each other in the sense that they are not bound by the precedent of their peers, (1) and individual court-level attributes, such as ideology and institutional design, influence decisions and policy, a growing body of literature stresses that political actors, such as legislators, interest groups, and others, are interdependent and make decisions based on the attributes and actions of their peers, as well as individual-level factors. (2) This interconnected framework stresses that interactions between actors are governed not just by individual-level characteristics, but also the similarities and differences of actors. This theoretical approach is incompatible with traditional modeling strategies, which assume observations are independent of each other, and necessitates employing social network analysis that explicitly account for interdependence in statistical models. (3) In this study, we extend both the interdependent assumptions of social network analysis and the policy diffusion literatures to state supreme courts by examining education policy diffusion via court opinions. Importantly, we examine education policy diffusion across three waves from 1974 to 2004, which highlights the changing nature of the state supreme court policy network.


State court decisions play a prominent role in many policy areas. In our federalist system, many policy domains are left predominantly to the states, including such areas as marriage, divorce, and, perhaps most prominently, education. (4) Particularly since San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, (5) state supreme courts are often the final authority on education finance law. (6) However, while the decisions of state supreme courts are final within their jurisdictions, state high courts often look to the decisions of other courts for guidance. (7) Education finance reform is a matter of policy, and while scholars have long recognized the diffusion of policy between state legislatures, no study has, as of yet, studied the diffusion of policy change through the use of state supreme court citations as a diffusion mechanism.

Traditionally, the literature on state courts holds that judicial decisions are a function of attitudes or policy preferences, constrained by institutional considerations and the separation of powers system inherent in each state. (8) Much of this literature assumes that decisions reached by state courts of last resort are largely independent of other state courts of last resort. (9) Each state court has its own preferences; laws; particular set of institutional constraints; and confronts different governors, publics, and state legislatures in rendering decisions. In addition, legal factors such as precedent within the state, state legislative history, and state constitutional and statutory language also play a role. However, this literature largely assumes that the decisions of one state supreme court are independent of decisions reached by neighboring state supreme courts. (10) We contend that this assumption misses the judicial dialog between state high courts. (11)

A small, but growing, literature finds state supreme courts often turn to each other for citations. This literature contends that state supreme courts look to their peers or other courts for guidance, particularly when dealing with a new area of case law. (12) Specifically, state supreme courts tend to cite their peers that are more professional and have specialized case law. (13) Thus, if a court is deciding a securities case, they may turn to the New York Court of Appeals since that court has developed an extensive specialized case law in that area. (14) While this literature is informative to the present study, it does not speak to the diffusion of policy, only the presence of citations. …

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