Agenda-Setting in the Supreme Court: The Collision of Policy and Jurisprudence

Ryan C. Black and Ryan J. Owens

Published 2009, Journal of Politics 71(3): 1062-1075 (July).


For decades, scholars have searched for data to show that Supreme Court justices are influenced not only by policy goals but also by legal considerations. Analyzing justices' agenda-setting decisions, we show that while justices are largely motivated by policy concerns, jurisprudential considerations can prevail over their policy goals. When policy goals and legal considerations collide, policy gives way. If legal considerations and policy goals align toward the same end, law liberates justices to pursue policy. In short, we find that at the intersection of law and politics, law is both a constraint on and an opportunity for justices.

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Research findings described in Seth Stern. 2010. "In Criticizing Kagan’s Writings as Clerk, Republicans Trod a Well-Worn Path." CQ Today Online News – Legal Affairs. June 11, 2010.