Civil Rights Cases and the Composition of the U.S. Supreme Court




Gonzalez, Nicolas

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“Civil Rights Cases and the Composition of the U.S. Supreme Court” seeks to fill the gap in the existing academic literature regarding the relationship between the appearance of civil rights appeals on the U.S. Supreme Court’s docket each term and its ideological composition.  Using a combination of statistical analysis, literature review, and historical investigation, this honors thesis provides reasons as to why an observable increase in civil rights appeals occurs as the Court grows more conservative.  Namely, it explores the increased Court activity regarding civil rights during the Civil Rights Era, Women’s Liberation Movement, and the 1980s, analyzing the legacies of Chief Justices Warren, Burger, and Rehnquist.  By viewing these different Courts within their relationship to public opinion and the intentions of the U.S. presidents who nominated its members, a clearer image emerges regarding the Supreme Court’s advocate-like tendencies.  While options such as the Rule of Four exist—which could suggest that the liberal coalition that has consistently comprised the Court’s minority since 1969 plays some role in adding civil rights-related appeals to the docket—the relationship between this coalition and the median justice suggests otherwise.  Ultimately, this paper serves to elucidate the oft-ignored certiorari stage of the U.S. Supreme Court’s behavior as a means of understanding the motivations of ideological factions on the Court.


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