Towards an Actor-Based Measure of Supreme Court Case Salience: Information-Seeking and Engagement During Oral Arguments

Ryan C. Black, Maron W. Sorenson, and Timothy R. Johnson

Published 2013, Political Research Quarterly 66(4): 803-817 (December).


Case salience affects nearly every aspect of Supreme Court justices’ behavior, yet a valid actor-based measure of salience has remained elusive. Researchers have instead relied on external proxy indicators, such as amicus curiae participation and media coverage, to explain justices’ behavior. We propose a novel measurement of salience in which we use justices’ differential levels of engagement to generate actor-based measures of case and justice-level salience. Focusing on justices’ behavior during oral argument, we contend that the more engaged the justices are in a case—defined by the number of words they speak—the more salient the case.

Download the advance access version here.

A zip file with both the Court and justice-level measures we create in the paper is available here. These files cover the 2004-2010 terms (justice-level) and 1979-2010 terms (Court-level). We are in the process of updating the measures to include more recent terms. Please contact me if you'd like to be notified about when these data are available.