Popular Justice: Presidential Prestige and Executive Success in the Supreme Court
Sheehan, Reginald S., Justice System Journal
Popular Justice: Presidential Prestige and Executive Success in the Supreme Court, by Jeff Yates. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.
This is a timely monograph examining the relationship between the presidency and the Supreme Court of the United States. Professor Yates provides the reader with a concise, well-written analysis of the interaction between these two political branches during the modern era. The book appears at a time when current political events provide an illuminating backdrop for considering the conclusions drawn in the analysis. Although the book was written before the current political crisis unfolding on the world stage, the theoretical premises and findings provide insights into the direction we might expect the presidency-Supreme Court relationship to take.
In Popular Justice: Presidential Prestige and Executive Success in the Supreme Court, Jeff Yates is interested in determining the extent to which the Supreme Court defers to the president or the executive branch in litigation. While there is a considerable body of research examining various aspects of the presidency-Supreme Court relationship, most of the work has been qualitative analyses of highly salient cases or descriptive statistical examinations of federal agency success. Professor Yates provides the first comprehensive and systematic empirical analysis of executive success in the Court. Additionally, this is the first empirical work that includes "presidential prestige" as an important explanatory variable in defining the extent to which the president will be successful in gaining support for his views in the Court. Drawing on research indicating that the Supreme Court is responsive to public opinion, Yates hypothesizes that public support for the president will translate into increased success rates for the executive branch. Presidential prestige has been an important factor in the executive-congressional relationship, and Yates asks the question, "Are Supreme Court justices responsive to presidential prestige in their choice to support the president and his policies?" (p. 15).
This is the guiding research question around which he builds his theoretical models. The book is developed along three lines of inquiry focusing on the primary points of interaction between the presidency and the Court involving litigation. The first empirical chapter analyzes whether public approval encourages Supreme Court support for litigants seeking increases in formal presidential power. Utilizing theoretical premises from the presidential and judicial politics literature, Yates develops an empirical model that incorporates attitudinal, political, and external factors, like public approval, into an analysis of Supreme Court support for presidential power. Consistent with the literature, he finds that the ideology of the justice is an important determinant of the vote, and the type of presidential power, i.e., domestic versus foreign policy, shapes the extent to which the Court will increase the power of the executive. Moreover, and the important new contribution of the analysis, is that even when controlling for attitudinal and political variables, the level of presidential approval and prestige is a significant determinant of Court support for presidential power.
One could argue that high-profile cases involving a request to expand formal presidential powers would be more vulnerable to the variables in Yates's model. This leads him to examine the other two points of interaction in two succeeding empirical chapters. Chapter 4 analyzes the success of federal bureaucratic agencies in the Supreme Court, and chapter 5 examines the ability of the president to influence Supreme Court outcomes by signaling policy preferences to the justices in issue areas that commonly attract the attention of the executive.
In his analysis of federal agency success, Yates argues that it is possible for the president to politicize the federal bureaucracy and use it to achieve aspects of his political agenda. …