The Supreme Court in American Democracy: Unraveling the Linkages between Public Opinion and Judicial Decision Making
There is wide scholarly agreement that the frequent replacement of justices has kept the Supreme Court generally attuned to public opinion. Recent research indicates that, in addition to this indirect effect, Supreme Court justices respond directly to changes in public opinion. We explore the two causal pathways suggested to link public opinion directly to the behavior of justices and the implications of the nature and strength of these linkages for current debates concerning Supreme Court tenure. The recent increase in the stability of Court membership has raised questions about the continued efficacy of the replacement mechanism and renewed debates over mechanisms to limit judicial tenure. Our analysis provides little evidence that justices respond strategically to public opinion but provides partial support for the idea that justices' preferences shift in response to the same social forces that shape the opinions of the general public. Our analysis offers preliminary evidence that—even in the absence of membership change—public opinion may provide a mechanism by which the preferences of the Court can be aligned with those of the public.