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Supreme Court Litigants and Strategic Framing


  • Thank you to James Brent, Brad Canon, Wonbin Cho, James Druckman, Chris Federico, Mike Fix, Rich Fording, Timothy Johnson, Joanne Miller, Mark Peffley, Kirk Randazzo, Eric Waltenburg, the AJPS editor Marianne Stewart, and the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and recommendations on previous versions. I also thank the Center for the Study of Political Psychology at the University of Minnesota and the University of Kentucky for providing funding to purchase software used in this project. All views and mistakes are mine. A previous version of this article was presented at the 2007 Midwest Political Science Association National Conference.

Justin Wedeking is Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Kentucky, 1661 Patterson Office Tower, Lexington, KY 40511 (


Although litigants invest a huge amount of resources in crafting legal briefs for submission to the Supreme Court, few studies examine whether and how briefs influence Court decisions. This article asks whether legal participants are strategic when deciding how to frame a case brief and whether such frames influence the likelihood of receiving a favorable outcome. To explore these questions, a theory of strategic framing is developed and litigants' basic framing strategies are hypothesized based on Riker's theory of rhetoric and heresthetic as well as the strategic approach to judicial politics. Using 110 salient cases from the 1979–89 terms, I propose and develop a measure of a typology of issue frames and provide empirical evidence that supports a strategic account of how parties frame cases.