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How rational are justices on the Supreme Court of the United States? Doctrinal considerations during agenda setting


  • Udi Sommer


Justices on the US Supreme Court are rational and therefore strategic policymakers. Yet, how rational are they? How far into the future would their strategic considerations reach? Due to potential influence on both policy and doctrine, ceteris paribus they find opinion authorship desirable; when selecting cases, in addition to thinking about legal issues and the final disposition, justices strategically consider opinion crafting. To overcome the measurement error inherent to the estimation of rational behavior of the type proposed here, the Simulation Extrapolation protocol is introduced. There is strong support for the notion of doctrine-minded justices at cert. The social implications of such rational behavior are far-reaching; employing this strategy, over the course of her time in office, a justice would be able to considerably influence several policy and legal issues. In closing, implications of strategic behavior on the individual-justice level for the constitutional position of the Court within American society are discussed.

Suggested Citation

  • Udi Sommer, 2011. "How rational are justices on the Supreme Court of the United States? Doctrinal considerations during agenda setting," Rationality and Society, , vol. 23(4), pages 452-477, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:ratsoc:v:23:y:2011:i:4:p:452-477

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