Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

The Dynamics of Interest Representation at the U.S. Supreme Court

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

The Dynamics of Interest Representation at the U.S. Supreme Court

Article excerpt


How do organized interests respond to their opponents' advocacy activities in a policy venue? Utilizing data on amicus curiae filings at the U.S. Supreme Court, the author estimates vector error correction and vector autoregression models that allow him test whether interests respond, in a dynamic sense, to the efforts of the "other side." The author capitalizes on the temporal sequencing of variation in advocacy activity to gain leverage on the causal connection between the behaviors of opposing sets of interests and provides a richer portrait of the dynamics of interest representation in a policy venue. The results reveal that organized interests respond positively to the advocacy activities of their opponents by exhibiting both short-term counteraction and long-term countermobilization, implying that over the long run, interest representation at the Court is responsive and perhaps balanced.


law, courts, political organizations, parties

How do interests respond to their opponents' lobbying activities in a policy venue? Do they seek to directly confront and counter the advocacy efforts of the opposition, or do they allocate their resources to advocacy efforts targeting institutions in which opposing interests are not as active? Assuming that organized interests exert some influence over policy outcomes or at least provide relevant information to policy makers, the degree to which opposing interests compete in a given policy venue or instead sort themselves into relatively noncompetitive venues has significant implications for whether policy outputs will exhibit representational or informational bias.

Despite the significance of these questions for the study of American politics, policy making, and representation, social scientists have not yet fully settled on the answers. According to the pluralist paradigm, American politics is fundamentally about the competition between opposing interests (e.g., Becker 1983; Truman 1951). This perspective generally suggests that interests will be responsive to the lobbying activities of their opponents. This responsiveness could result from either policy-seeking or resource-maximizing behavior. To the extent that interests pursue influence over policy, they may want to provide policy makers with information that offsets the information provided by opponents (Austen-Smith and Wright 1994). Organizational maintenance concerns may also cause interest groups to seek out conflictual venues in which a strong opposition is present, as this may make it easier to offer purposive incentives to potential supporters.

Empirical studies of the responsiveness of organized interests to the lobbying activities of opposing interests provide mixed results, however. Holyoke (2003) and Nownes (2000) present survey-based evidence that organized interests are more likely to lobby policy venues in which opposing interests are active, while W. L. Hansen and Mitchell (2000) find that corporate political activity increases in response to the advocacy efforts of unions. Austen-Smith and Wright (1994) examine lobbying activities in the U.S. Senate and also find evidence of what they call counteractive lobbying (but see Baumgartner and Leech 1996). In the context of the policy venue to be examined here, the U.S. Supreme Court, Solowiej and Collins (2009) demonstrate that the filing of amicus curiae briefs in support of a litigant corresponds with the filing of amicus curiae briefs in support of the opposing litigant. Other studies, however, find little to no evidence of organized interests responding to activities of their opponents (e.g., Ando 2003; Hojnacki and Kimball 1998; Lowery et al. 2005; McKay and Yackee 2007). The mixed results generated by this literature may be the result of differing assumptions about the timing of organized interest responses to their opposition, the static nature of the analyses, and accompanying difficulties in identifying causal connections in the data. …

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