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Agenda Setting and Attention to Precedent in the US Federal Courts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2022

James F. Spriggs II
Washington University in St. Louis, USA


To what degree is judicial agenda setting top-down or bottom-up? Existing studies lack evidence of the frequency or magnitude of these two processes. We conceptualize the judicial agenda as the legal questions/rules receiving judicial attention, measure it using citations to Supreme Court opinions, and estimate vector autoregression models to identify how each level of court initiates or responds to variation in attention to precedent at other levels of the judiciary. The Supreme Court exerts some top-down control, but agenda setting is more often bottom-up, revealing lower courts are more integral to setting the federal judicial agenda than previously understood.

© 2021 Law and Courts Organized Section of the American Political Science Association. All rights reserved.

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Spriggs recognizes funding from the National Science Foundation (Law and Social Science, SES-0550451). A previous version of this paper was presented at the 2013 annual conference of the American Political Science Association. Contact the corresponding author, James F. Spriggs II, at


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