Analyzing the Reliability of Supreme Court Justices' Agenda Setting Records

Ryan C. Black and Ryan J. Owens

Published 2009, Justice System Journal 30(3): 254-264 (December).


Nearly all aspects of the Supreme Court’s decision making process occur outside the public eye. To study how the Court makes law and policy, scholars largely must rely upon archival materials harvested from the private papers of retired Supreme Court justices. Previous efforts to validate the reliability of these materials focus solely on the votes justices cast at the merits stage and were unable to assess the reliability of recently released papers. We examine the agenda setting records for several justices’ papers, including those of Justice Harry A. Blackmun, the justice whose papers were most recently made public. Our results suggest that Blackmun’s papers are reliable and accurately archive his colleagues’ agenda votes.

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