Each June in the United States, scholars, journalists, law makers, law enforcers, lawyers, and members of the public wait for the announcement of major decisions from the Supreme Court. Justices often read a summary of their decision from the bench dressed in their robes. Paper copies are available in a special office – and more recently on the Supreme Court website. This year, the Supreme Court opinions have shaped policy on affirmative action, public accommodation for LGBTQ+ people, voting rights, student loans, and the power of states to control election procedure. Before these cases are decided, the parties, outside individuals, and interest groups invest an estimated $25 to $50 million dollars a year to produce roughly one thousand amicus briefs. These briefs strategically provide information to the justices to convince them to vote in a particular way. How are these briefs produced? Who pays for their research and writing? What impact do they have on the ultimate decisions of the Supreme Court?
In Persuading the Supreme Court: The Significance of Briefs in Judicial Decision-Making (UP of Kansas, 2022), Drs. Hazelton and Hinkle draw on political science research on the effects of information on policy making, their original dataset of more than 25,000 party and amicus briefs ﬁled between 1984 and 2015, their interviews with former Supreme Court clerks and attorneys, and the text of the related court opinions to argue that the briefs matter – and they matter more when parties hire experienced attorneys known to the justices to craft excellent information-rich briefs. Hazelton and Hinkle interrogate both the causes and the consequences of providing that information to the justices. They demonstrate how that information operates differently in terms of influencing who wins and what policy is announced.
Dr. Rachael K. Hinkle, J.D. and Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University at Buffalo. Her research agenda focuses on judicial politics with particular attention to gleaning insights into legal development from the content of judicial opinions through the use of computational text analytic techniques.
Dr. Morgan L.W. Hazelton, J.D. and Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and School of Law (by courtesy) at Saint Louis University. She studies how features of court systems influence the decisions that both litigants and judges make.
In the podcast, Drs. Hazelton and Hinkle mention their piece in their Monkey Cage on predicting the outcome in the 2023 Voting Rights Case and their new collaboration with Dr. Michael J. Nelson, The Elevator Effect. Their data set is available to the public and can be found on either of their websites (linked above).
Susan Liebell is Dirk Warren '50 Professor of Political Science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.