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Political Ideology as a Fluctuating Rather Than Defining Force Upon the Court: An Analysis of Discreet Areas of Civil Liberties Voting

Abstract: Scholars such as Segal and Spaeth contend that U.S. Supreme Court decisions are based primarily upon the ideological beliefs of the justices. However, recent scholarship demonstrates that this conclusion is exaggerated – measures of political ideology do not explain voting behavior as well as previously thought. This paper adds an important contribution to this finding: the role that ideology plays upon the Court is not stable. Rather, it fluctuates significantly across distinct issues of law. This is a significant finding because it demonstrates that judicial preference for resolving salient, political conflict is not governed by a stable ideological or attitudinal framework. To the contrary, the framework used by justices to resolve political conflict is significantly driven by ideology only in some areas of civil liberties cases, not in others. Stated another way, scholars should conceive of political ideology as a fluctuating rather than defining force upon the Court – it is sometimes high, sometimes low. Future works should further identify areas of significant fluctuation and should attempt to explain what causes value voting to dominate some areas, but not others.

  • Conference paper: download Word version.

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