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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: August 2018

9 - Behind the Black Robes


For the last century, the study of the US Supreme Court has consistently focused on a few tried-and-true explanations for the justices’ behavior: the content of the law and legal norms, the ideological and partisan consequences of justices’ decisions, and the institutional context in which justices operate. Surprisingly, though, few studies of justices’ choices have focused on the justices themselves. To the extent that scholars have examined justices’ individual characteristics, they tend to reduce these characteristics to one-dimensional policy preferences. Indeed, an apt metaphor for the predominant view of Supreme Court justices is their official “class photo”: a group of nine justices, arrayed from left to right, concealed beneath identical black robes.

In contrast, this book has adopted a very different approach to studying Supreme Court justices – an approach centered around who they are and what they want. In short, I have argued that justices pursue a variety of goals, well beyond the bare desire to influence policy or follow the law. As such, I join several scholars who have recently argued that justices pursue multiple objectives, such as prestige, effort aversion, and collegiality.1 However, in contrast to these studies, I emphasize the justices’ individual differences. In other words, prior studies have suggested that justices pursue multiple goals, but they have generally neglected the possibility that different justices want different things. Instead, I argue that justices possess distinct personality traits and, consequently, vary considerably in the value they attach to different goals.

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What Justices Want
  • Online ISBN: 9781108621410
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