Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-cjp7w Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-06-20T15:48:05.807Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Institutions and Equilibrium in the United States Supreme Court

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 November 2007

Pepperdine University and Stanford University
Stanford University


Over the last decade the scholarship on judicial politics has increasingly emphasized the strategic aspects of decision making in the United States Supreme Court. This scholarship, however, has struggled with two significant limitations—the restriction to unidimensional policy spaces and the assumption of binary comparisons of alternatives. These two assumptions have the advantage of implying stable, predictable outcomes, but lack a sound theoretical foundation and assume away potentially important aspects of strategic behavior on the Court. In this article, we identify institutional features of the Court that, under certain conditions, allow us to relax these two assumptions without sacrificing stable, predictable policy outcomes. In particular, we formalize the “part-by-part” opinion voting used by the justices, a feature that, together with separable preferences over policy issues, implies stable policy outcomes around the issue-by-issue median of the justices.

© 2007 by the American Political Science Association

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Adarand Constructors v. Pena. 1995. 515 U.S. 200.
Arrow Kenneth J. 1963. Social Choice and Individual Values. Second ed. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Bernheim B. Douglas, Bezalel Peleg, and Michael D. Whinston. 1987. “Coalition-Proof Nash Equilibria I. Concepts.” Journal of Economic Theory 42 (June): 112.Google Scholar
Bernheim B. Douglas, and Michael D. Whinston. 1987. “Coalition-Proof Nash Equilibria II. Applications.” Journal of Economic Theory 42 (June): 1329.Google Scholar
Brenner Saul. 1982. “Strategic Choice and Opinion Assignment on the US Supreme Court: A Reexamination.” The Western Political Quarterly 35: 20411.Google Scholar
Delson B. Rudolph. 2001. “Typography in the U.S. Reports and Supreme Court Voting Protocols.” N.Y.U. Law Review 76: 120332.Google Scholar
Easterbrook Frank H. 1982. “Ways of Criticizing the Court.” Harvard Law Review 95 (February): 80232.Google Scholar
Epstein Lee and Jack Knight. 1998. The Choices Justices Make. Washington, DC: CQ Press.
Epstein Lee, Jeffrey A. Segal, and Harold J. Spaeth. 2001. “The Norm of Consensus on the US Supreme Court.” American Journal of Political Science 45 (April): 36277.Google Scholar
Gardner v. Florida. 1977. 430 U.S. 349.
Gely Rafael, and Pablo T. Spiller. 1990. “A Rational Choice Theory of Supreme Court Statutory Decisions with Applications to the State Farm and Grove City Cases.” Journal of Law, Economics and Organization 6 (Fall): 263300.Google Scholar
Grofman Bernard, and Timothy J Brazill. 2002. “Identifying the Median Justice on the Supreme Court through Multidimensional Scaling: Analysis of “Natural Courts” 1953–1991.” Public Choice 112 (July): 5579.Google Scholar
Hammond Thomas H., Chris W. Bonneau, and Reginald S. Sheehan. 2005. Strategic Behavior and Policy Choice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Johnson Timothy R., Paul J. Wahlbeck, and James F. Spriggs II. 2006. “The Influence of Oral Arguments on the U.S. Supreme Court.” American Political Science Review 100 (February): 99113.Google Scholar
Kornhauser Lewis A., and Lawrence G. Sager. 1993. “The One and the Many: Adjudication in Collegial Courts.” California Law Review 81: 159.Google Scholar
Kramer Gerald H. 1972. “Sophisticated Voting Over Multidimensional Choice Spaces.” Journal of Mathematical Sociology 2 (July): 16580.Google Scholar
Lorillard Tobacco v. Reilly. 2001. 533 U.S. 525.
Maltzman Forrest, James F. Spriggs, II, and Paul J. Wahlbeck. 1999. “Strategy and Judicial Choice: New Institutionalist Approaches to Supreme Court Decision-Making.” In Supreme Court Decision-Making: New Institutionalist Approaches, ed. Cornell W. Clayton and Howard. Gillman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 4364.
Maltzman Forrest, James F. Spriggs II, and Paul J. Wahlbeck. 2000. Crafting Law on the Supreme Court: The Collegial Game. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Maltzman Forrest, and Paul J. Wahlbeck. 1996. “May It Please the Chief? Opinion Assignments in the Rehnquist Court.” American Journal of Political Science 40 (May): 42143.Google Scholar
Marks v. United States. 1977. 430 U.S. 188.
McKelvey Richard D. 1976. “Intransitivities in Multidimensional Voting Models and Some Implications for Agenda Control.” Journal of Economic Theory 12 (June): 47282.Google Scholar
Martin Andrew D., Kevin M. Quinn and Lee Epstem, “The median Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court,” North Carolina Law Review. 83: 12751321.
O'Brien David M. 1999. “Institutional Norms and Supreme Court Opinions: On Reconsidering the Rise of Individual Opinions.” In Supreme Court Decision-Making: New Institutionalist Approaches. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 91113.
O'Brien David M. 2005. Storm Center: The Supreme Court in American Politics. Seventh ed. New York: Norton.
O'Dell v. Netherland. 1997. 521 U.S. 151.
Ordeshook Peter C. 1986. Game Theory and Political Theory: An Introduction. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Plott Charles R. 1967. “A Notion of Equilibrium and Its Possibility under Majority Rule.” American Economic Review 57 (September): 787806.Google Scholar
Rathjen Gregory James. 1974. “Policy Goals, Strategic Choice, and Majority Opinion Assignments in the U.S. Supreme Court: A Replication.” American Journal of Political Science 18 (November): 71324.Google Scholar
Riker William H. 1986. The Art of Political Manipulation. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Rogers James R. 2001. “Information and Judicial Review: A Signaling Game of Legislative-Judicial Interaction.” American Journal of Political Science 45 (January): 8499.Google Scholar
Rohde David W. 1972. “Policy Goals and Opinion Coalitions in the Supreme Court.” Midwest Journal of Political Science 16 (May): 20824.Google Scholar
Segal Jeffrey A. 1997. “Separation-of-Powers Games in the Positive Theory of Congress and Courts.” American Political Science Review 91 (March): 2844.Google Scholar
Selvesterv. v. United States. 1898. 170 U.S. 262.
Shepsle Kenneth A. 1979. “Institutional Arrangements and Equilibrium in Multidimensional Voting Models.” American Journal of Political Science 23 (February): 2759.Google Scholar
Shepsle Kenneth A., and Barry R. Weingast. 1981. “Structure-induced Equilibrium and Legislative Choice.” Public Choice 37 (January): 50319.Google Scholar
Spiller Pablo T., and Matthew L. Spitzer. 1992. “Judicial Choice of Legal Doctrines.” Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization 8 (March): 846. Conference on the Economics and Politics of Administrative Law and Procedures.Google Scholar
United States v. Pink. 1942. 315 U.S. 203.
Wahlbeck Paul J., James F. Spriggs II, and Forrest Maltzman. 1999. “The Politics of Dissents and Concurrences on the U.S. Supreme Court.” American Politics Quarterly 27 (October): 488514.Google Scholar
Submit a response


No Comments have been published for this article.