Patterns and Consequences of Supreme Court Decision Making on Federalism Cases
Parker, Christopher Maier
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The efforts to curb Congressional power throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s by the Rehnquist Court have brought the issue of federalism back into discussion in political debate. The so-called Federalism Revolution has sparked debate regarding the motivation for this change in Court behavior. Scholars have developed competing theories describing the voting as based in legal considerations, influenced by institutional factors, and ideologically driven. However, much of the research has involved quantitative analyses of small samples of cases. This dissertation seeks to fill a void by employing a comprehensive statistical analysis of individual justice votes in federalism cases from 1953 through 2007. In addition, this dissertation adds to the research on ideological voting on the Supreme Court by not only considering individual preferences for states' rights or federal authority in federalism issues, but also including the ideological leaning of the substantive policies that are being considered in the individual cases. This conception of ideology allows me to analyze the influences of the different and sometimes competing ideological dimensions on the individual voting behavior in federalism cases. Furthermore, the analysis includes variables that allow for a test of the relative ability of the legal and institutional theories to explain justices' votes on federalism cases. I develop a multilevel model to test the effects of ideology and other institutional and legal variables on the probability that a justice issues a pro-federal vote in a federalism case. Chapter 3 tests this model on data from 1953 through 2007. The results of this analysis show that individual ideology has a strong influence on federalism voting in two ways: 1) conservative justices are generally more likely to vote in favor of states' rights and 2) the size of the gap between liberal and conservative justices in this likelihood varies greatly depending on whether a states' right vote leads to a more or less liberal policy outcome. The next empirical chapter seeks to replicate this analysis on federalism cases from 1793 to 1952 - a time period that has been the subject of very little quantitative analysis. In its early years the Supreme Court did not enjoy the same institutional legitimacy that it currently holds in the American political system. Therefore the influences of legal, ideological, and institutional variables should not be assumed to have the same effects on federalism voting during the early Court as they do in modern times. Although proxy measures for justice ideology needed to be used, the results show that there was still a significant, albeit weaker, effect of ideology on federalism voting in this early time period. However, we do also see stronger influences from legal and institutional variables, supporting the notion that the Supreme Court was more concerned with its institutional legitimacy during its early years. The results paint a picture of ideological voting evolving over time rather than being an enduring feature of justice voting. The final empirical analysis finds that the trends in voting on federalism cases at the Supreme Court level have significant effects on the appeals from losing litigants at the Circuit Court or state supreme court level. Litigants seem to base their decision to appeal at least in part on perceptions of their ability to win. These perceptions are affected not only by the legal characteristics of a case, but also by the ideological and federalism voting trends in recent Supreme Court cases. Overall, the analyses in each of these chapters build on the judicial politics literature by finding strong support for a more nuanced form of ideological voting on the Supreme Court. It also introduces research studying the effects of Supreme Court decisions on the behavior of other actors in the legal arena. In addition to building on the Supreme Court decision making literature, these results also provide interesting avenues for future research on the Supreme Court and the American political system in general.