The Puzzle of Unanimity: Consensus on the United States Supreme Court

By

Pamela Corley, Amy Steigerwalt, Artemus Ward

Description

The Puzzle of Unanimity: Consensus on the United States Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court typically rules on cases that present complex legal questions. Given the challenging nature of its cases and the popular view that the Court is divided along ideological lines, it’s commonly assumed that the Court routinely hands down equally-divided decisions. Yet the justices actually issue unanimous decisions in approximately one third of the cases they decide.

Drawing on data from the U.S. Supreme Court database, internal court documents, and the justices’ private papers, The Puzzle of Unanimity provides the first comprehensive account of how the Court reaches consensus. Pamela Corley, Amy Steigerwalt, and Artemus Ward propose and empirically test a theory of consensus; they find consensus is a function of multiple, concurrently-operating forces that cannot be fully accounted for by ideological attitudes. In this thorough investigation, the authors conclude that consensus is a function of the level of legal certainty and its ability to constrain justices’ ideological preferences.

Reviews

“The heart of The Puzzle of Unanimity is an empirical study of all the unanimous and near-unanimous decisions the Supreme Court issued between 1953 and 2004 . . . And for those readers who come to this book believing that the justices arrive at consensus primarily because of determinate law or ideological convergence or strategic considerations or some other overriding causal factor, this book offers a powerful challenge to these kinds of reductionist assumptions.”—Christopher Schmidt, H-Law

“The book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of Supreme Court decision-making and has many strengths. Importantly, the authors are the first to systematically tackle the puzzle of unanimous decisions captured both in terms of votes and the presence of separate opinions . . . [T]his is a well-crafted book that fills an important void in legal scholarship.”—Eve M. Ringsmuth, Political Science Quarterly

“[A]n important empirical study on Supreme Court decision making . . . The variety of sources referenced results in a very rich bibliography . . . [T]he accessible writing and detailed explanations of the authors’ methodology make this an excellent addition to an academic law library.”—Tina M. Brooks, Law Library Journal

“This is the first comprehensive account of consensus building; it is imaginative and thorough and makes an important contribution to understanding the Court’s internal dynamics . . . Highly recommended.”—P. Lermack, CHOICE
“In The Puzzle of Unanimity, the authors skillfully probe the sources of consensus on the Supreme Court and provide new insights on the considerations that shape the justices’ choices. Their book is an important contribution to the understanding of judicial behavior.”—Lawrence Baum, Ohio State University

Book Details

  • Publisher: Stanford Law Books (May 15, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804784728
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804784726

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