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4 - Decision Making on the Modern Supreme Court

Examining the Influences

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

Richard L. Pacelle, Jr
Affiliation:
Georgia Southern University
Brett W. Curry
Affiliation:
Georgia Southern University
Bryan W. Marshall
Affiliation:
Miami University
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Summary

We started this project with a number of research questions. Despite the lure of the siren song of the attitudinal model, we were not seduced. Theories that are simple and elegant are openly embraced in the social and physical sciences. Yet reality is seldom simple and almost never easily compartmentalized. Sure policy predilections are important and likely the most compelling factor in explaining decision making. But are they the only explanation? It strains credulity. We start with this simple question: Is the attitudinal model the only factor that explains Supreme Court decision making? If so, this has important normative consequences. It suggests that the justices are simply legislators in robes who are free to impose their vision of the good society on the law and the public with impunity. They are the essence, then, of the Platonic guardians. And what makes the situation even worse is that the justices hide behind the pomp and circumstance of the institution and the velvet curtain that separates their bench from the public. They pretend to rely on the law, philosophy, neutral principles, and the Constitution, yet all the while they are simply exercising their sincere policy preferences (Segal, Spaeth, and Benesh 2005). Furthermore, they are beyond the reach of the public and cannot be removed from office (except in the case of very bad behavior).

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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