Disproportionate attention on the Supreme Court




Whyman, Michelle C.

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Despite its emergence as a key player in igniting policy change, very little work has been done to understand the Supreme Court’s agenda in terms of policy content. Scholars have tended to describe the Court mostly in terms of the direction (liberal/conservative) of justices’ decisions and the significance of particular cases. As a result, I ask if the Supreme Court allocates a disproportionate share of its docket to particular policy areas and if over attention to issue areas can be explained in terms of ideological shifts on the Court. This paper utilizes a new dataset, which includes a sample of 4591 certiorari denied cases and all 7014 cases granted certiorari from 1948 to 1990. Each case is coded for policy content according to the Policy Agendas Project coding scheme. By comparing the policy content of certiorari granted and certiorari denied cases over time, I show that judicial attention to policy areas waxes and wanes and court eras can be differentiated according to which issues occupied a disproportionate share of the Court’s attention. Additionally, I demonstrate that disproportionate attention to a subset of issue areas varies with changes in the ideological makeup of the Court.




LCSH Subject Headings