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Actions, Factions, and Interactions: Newsworthy Influences on Supreme Court Coverage*


Direct correspondence to Tyler Johnson, Department of Political Science, The University of Oklahoma, 455 W. Lindsey, Room 215 DAHT, Norman, OK 73019 〈〉. Tyler Johnson shall share all data and coding for replication purposes.



We test whether Supreme Court media coverage (in terms of both overall volume and specific frames) is driven by Court actions, by factional battles on the Court, by the Court's interaction with other governmental actors, or by all three.


We link elements of the Spaeth Supreme Court Database and real-world Supreme Court and political events to Associated Press media coverage of the judicial branch over a nearly three-decade span. Content analysis of the media coverage is performed and empirical relationships between decisions, events, and coverage are analyzed using error correction modeling.


We find that overall coverage of the Court is driven by the ideological nature of decisions rendered and by judicial retirements. Legal coverage of the Court is driven by issues of constitutionality. Political coverage of the Court is driven by majority size and judicial retirements.


The findings speak to the newsworthiness of Court action, factional battles on the Court, and moments where the Court interacts with outsiders. Elements of all three shapes the types of stories journalists tell and the ways in which said stories are told.