PS 414 Supreme Court as a Political Institution

Why does the United States Supreme Court change law? Do elected politicians influence how the Court decides cases? How do norms and institutions influence the choices justices make? The principal purpose of this course is to answer these types of questions. Unlike constitutional law classes, this course does not focus on legal doctrine (though we do examine it in part); rather, it examines political and institutional aspects of the Supreme Court. We will use social science to analyze theories of judicial decision making and learn how law is made in a political context.

I have two goals for students. First, I want you to understand how the Supreme Court operates. More specifically, I want you to understand how justices behave in an interdependent environment in which their actions turn on their preferences, the preferences of their colleagues, institutional norms, and political context. Second, I want you to learn how to think like a social scientist. For each reading, I want you to question the underlying assumptions of the authors’ theories and whether they actually find what they think they do. In other words, think about the popular show Mythbusters—are the authors’ assertions confirmed, plausible, or busted?