Are Court Decisions Consistent with Public Preferences?

By Kritzer, Herbert M. | Judicature, September/October 2008 | Go to article overview

Are Court Decisions Consistent with Public Preferences?


Kritzer, Herbert M., Judicature


Are Court decisions consistent with public preferences? by Herbert M. Kritzer

Public Opinion and the Rehnquist Court, by Thomas R. Marshall. State University of New York Press. 2008. xii+269 pages. $85.00.

In 1989 Thomas Marshall published Public Opinion and the Supreme Court. In that book, Professor Marshall mined the archive of public opinion questions, going back to the 1930s, that asked about issues that had come before the Supreme Court of the United States as well as questions assessing how the public viewed the Court. In Public Opinion and the Rehnquist Court, Professor Marshall reports parallel analyses for the era of the Rehnquist Court. While there are some specific exceptions, the thrust of the analyses reported is that the relationship between public opinion and the Rehnquist Court is little changed from what was found for the Hughes through Burger courts. While most of Public Opinion and the Rehnquist Court is a replication of the earlier work, there are some additional aspects to the analyses it reports.

In his 1989 book Professor Marshall identified what he labeled 12 "linkage" models "between mass public opinion and Supreme Court decision making" (pp. 14-25): state of public opinion, socialization, federal policy process, state/local policy process, appointment process, judicial rules, length of tenure, realignment, short-term manipulation, long-term manipulation, interest groups, and test of time. In Public Opinion and the Rehnquist Court, he expands the number of models to 15, including all of his earlier models and adding political parties and ideology, symbolic representation, and business-as-normal. By "linkage model," Marshall primarily refers to what intervening variables between public opinion and decision making condition whether decisions and votes align with public opinion.

As noted above, Professor Marshall draws on the large archive of public opinion questions to locate questions that deal with issues that came before the Court. In his earlier book, covering approximately 50 years, he located 146 "matches" where a public opinion poll had asked a policy question around the time that the Court decided a case dealing with the same issue. For the 20 years of the Rehnquist Court he found 111 matches, clearly a much higher rate, about 51/4 per year; however, compared to the immediately preceding Burger Court, the rate was not all that different, about 41/4 per year, according to his earlier book (p. 74). However, one should also note that the Burger Court decided more cases in an average year than did the Rehnquist Court, suggesting greater attention by pollsters over the two decades of the Rehnquist Court.

The central question

The central question in Professor Marshall's analysis is whether Supreme Court decisions, and individual justices' votes, are consistent with public preferences. In his first book, he found that in 63 percent of the situations where he could match public opinion polls to Court decisions, the decision was consistent with public preferences. For the Rehnquist era, the results are essentially identical: 64 percent of the Court's decisions accord with the public's preference (this is his figure omitting cases where the public opinion polls were closely divided or inconsistent). While Professor Marshall interprets these patterns as indicating that the Court tends to rule in a way consistent with public preferences, another way to state his results is that in about a third of its cases, the Supreme Court reaches a decision that is in opposition to the thrust of the public's preference. The intriguing question is whether a third is a "lot" or a "litde," the old question of whether the glass is two-thirds full or one-third gone?

Professor Marshall reports some variations in when decision are consistent or inconsistent with public preferences: more consistent in times of crisis, when less than five percent of the public is undecided on an issue, and when public opinion is consistent with the law. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Are Court Decisions Consistent with Public Preferences?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.