Party, policy, or duty: Why does the supreme court invalidate federal statutes?

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This paper explores three competing accounts of judicial review by comparing the enacting and invalidating coalitions for each of the fifty-three federal statutes struck down by the Supreme Court during its 1981 through 2005 terms. When a Republican judicial coalition invalidates a Democratic statute, the Court's decision is consistent with a partisan account, and when a conservative judicial coalition invalidates a liberal statute, the decision is explicable on policy grounds. But when an ideologically mixed coalition invalidates a bipartisan statute, the decision may have reflected an institutional divide between judges and legislators rather than a partisan or policy conflict. Finding more cases consistent with this last explanation than either of the others, I suggest that the existing literature has paid insufficient attention to the possibility of institutionally motivated judicial behavior, and more importantly, that any comprehensive account of the Court's decisions will have to attend to the interaction of multiple competing influences on the justices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-337
Number of pages17
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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