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Signals from the Tenth Justice: The Political Role of the Solicitor General in Supreme Court Decision Making


  • The authors appreciate the advice and assistance of Will Adams, Sarah Binder, Saul Brenner, Bert Kritzer, Eric Lawrence, Rich Pacelle, Ryan Pevnick, James Spriggs, and Paul Wahlbeck. Bailey and Maltzman also acknowledge the support of the National Science Foundation (SES-0351469; SES-03151763). Bailey acknowledges support from the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

Michael A. Bailey is Associate Professor of Government at Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057 ( Brian Kamoie is Assistant Professor of Health Policy in the School of Public Health and Health Services and a PhD candidate in Political Science at George Washington University, Washington, DC 20052 ( Forrest Maltzman is Professor of Political Science at George Washington University, Washington, DC 20052 (


Conventional explanations of the solicitor general's influence on the Supreme Court emphasize his expertise or experience. We articulate and test a more political account based on insights from signaling theory. We argue justices will be more receptive to signals from the solicitor general (S.G.) when either the justice and S.G. are ideologically proximate or the S.G.'s signal is contrary to his ideological predisposition. We test our account over the period from 1953 to 2002 using a newly developed interinstitutional measure of ideology that places executive and judicial actors on the same spatial scale. Our results highlight the political nature of the S.G.'s influence, challenging the received wisdom about the S.G.'s impact on the Supreme Court.