Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Dodging conflict: The Supreme Court under threat from Congress
by Carey, Maeve P., Ph.D., The George Washington University, 2010, 158; 3413119
Abstract (Summary)

In this dissertation, I explore a poorly understood aspect of judicial decision making: the Supreme Court’s decision to “avoid the merits” of a case. I define avoiding the merits of a case as ruling on mootness, standing, or dismissing a case’s certiorari. I incorporate threat from Congress into an analysis of the Court’s decision to avoid case merits. Specifically, I argue that the Court uses threshold questions to avoid ruling in cases in which it is under threat of an override from Congress. By focusing on threshold questions rather than the merits, the Court can avoid issuing a ruling that Congress may not like, therefore protecting itself from a potential override.

Many scholars examine the question of whether the Court is influenced by congressional preferences, but they focus largely on the Court’s final decisions on the merits. I change the terms of debate by arguing that if the Court is under threat from Congress, the justices may prefer not to rule on the merits. Avoiding the merits of a case provides the justices with an escape from a conflict situation.

In a three-part empirical study, I find evidence that the justices are indeed strategic relative to the preferences of Congress. I begin with a study of several stages of the Court’s decision making, looking at briefs submitted to the Court, oral arguments, and the justices’ private conference discussions for evidence of congressional constraint. Finding that the Court does frequently include Congress in its discussion of cases, I turn to a study of the effect of congressional preferences on the Court. I find evidence that both institutional-level decisions and individual-level decisions on the Court are affected by the justices’ evaluation of congressional threat. As a result of this consideration, the justices are strategic in their decisions on whether to address the merits of a case.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Wahlbeck, Paul J.
Commitee: Bartels, Brandon, Binder, Sarah A., Maltzman, Forrest, Young, Garry
School: The George Washington University
Department: Political Science
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 71/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Law, Political science
Keywords: Congress, Separation of powers, Supreme Court
Publication Number: 3413119
ISBN: 9781124132112
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