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Justice Speaks, but Who's Listening?

Mass Public Awareness of US Supreme Court Cases

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2022

Matthew P. Hitt*
Colorado State University
Kyle L. Saunders
Colorado State University
Kevin M. Scott
Bureau of Justice Statistics
Contact the corresponding author, Matthew P. Hitt, at


We seek to measure the impact of decisions issued by the US Supreme Court on public awareness of its cases. We use a quasi-experimental design with the Court decisions as the stimulus of hypothesized public awareness change. We find that public awareness of cases varies according to individual differences: more educated, knowledgeable, and informationally motivated citizens are more likely to report awareness. Further, decision announcements increase awareness more generally, especially in cases of moderate salience. In contrast, for a very high salience case, awareness is high before and after the decision is announced, while, for a case fabricated by the investigators, “awareness” is not affected by the Court’s activities. The results suggest that while the public may eventually respond to the behavior of national institutions, this response is likely first filtered through an elite subset of the population.

Research Article
© 2018 by the Law and Courts Organized Section of the American Political Science Association. All rights reserved.

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The research reported in this article was supported by the National Science Foundation (SES-0519608). We thank the staff of the Indiana Survey Research Center, particularly John Kennedy and Dominic Powell, for assistance designing and executing the survey. We also thank Larry Baum, Matt Courser, Valerie Hoekstra, and Chris Zorn for valuable comments and conversations about this project. This article represents the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Office of Justice Programs, or the Department of Justice.


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