Get access

The Separation of Powers and Supreme Court Agenda Setting


  • I thank Ryan Black, Tom Hammond, Pauline Kim, Bill Lowry, Michael Lynch, Tony Madonna, Andrew Martin, Rich Pacelle, Harvey Palmer, Reggie Sheehan, Steve Smith, and Jim Spriggs for their helpful comments. I also would like to thank Kiran Bhat for his research assistance, and the staff at the Library of Congress for their help. Finally, I thank the Center for Empirical Research in the Law at Washington University in Saint Louis and the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University for their financial support.

Ryan J. Owens is Assistant Professor of Government, Harvard University, 1737 Cambridge Street, CGIS Knafel Building 408, Cambridge, MA 02138 (


This study employs the first systematic, empirical analysis that relies on archival data to examine whether the separation of powers influences justices' agenda votes. It spatially models how justices set the Court's agenda under a sincere approach as well as an SOP approach and compares the competing expectations derived therefrom. The results suggest that legislative and executive preferences fail to influence justices' votes. Across every model tested, the data show justices uninfluenced by the separation of powers. These results provide a strong rejoinder to SOP models, since the Court's agenda stage is the most likely stage of the decision-making process to show signs of an SOP effect.