The public and the Supreme court: Individual justice responsiveness to American policy moods Academic Article uri icon


  • Theory: Individual Supreme Court justices care about policy, but they must compete with popular institutions for policy control. They also care about their institution. In order to secure as much as they can of policy goals and protect their institution, they adjust policy decisions at the margins in response to mass public opinion. Hypotheses: Individual Supreme Court justice liberalism depends on shifts in mass public opinion through time. Methods: We test hypotheses using pooled time series cross-section analysis, with the individual justice-term as the unit of analysis. Results: Controlling for the changing composition of the Court, attitudinal inertia of justices, and the strength of judicial ideologies, we find that public opinion directly affects decisions by individual members of the Court. We show that the result holds across various issue areas, is not restricted to only a few justices, and that the justices' responses are relatively quick with a lag of only one term.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Flemming, R. B., & Wood, B. D.

citation count

  • 83

complete list of authors

  • Flemming, RB||Wood, BD

publication date

  • April 1997