In this chapter, I compare the performance of six state courts of last resort--Arizona, Kentucky, California, Michigan, Nebraska and New Jersey--for 1975. I focus on three measures of performance: dissent rates, rates of reversals of lower court decisions and judicial activism scores. I also formulate some theories to account for the variation in the performance of the courts.
The opinions of six state courts of last resort for 1975 were content analyzed and coded in the effort to illustrate some aspects of the model of state court performance presented in Chapter 1. I have selected one state from each of the six court classes for study. The state courts chosen exhibit different institutional and cultural characteristics, but I make no attempt to argue that this limited sample of courts is representative of all the states. Therefore, I do not argue that my findings here are generalizable to all state courts of last resort. However, I do believe my findings are suggestive since they seem to point to fruitful areas for future, comprehensive studies.
I have chosen to begin my study of state supreme courts in 1975. This choice was based upon practical and theoretical reasons. The 1976 edition of State Court Systems, which describes the institutional characteristics of the state courts just prior to January 1, 1976, is the first readily available catalogue of information on the courts of all fifty states. Since I am interested in the effect of institutional characteristics on state supreme court performance, my choice of years for the study