Selecting the Select Few: The Discuss List and the U.S. Supreme Court's Agenda-Setting Process


  • We thank the Baldy Center for Law & Social Policy, Center for Empirical Research in the Law, and National Science Foundation for supporting our research and James Battista, Carlos Estevez, Tim Johnson, Andrew Martin, Lynn Mather, Harvey Palmer, Rachel Schutte, Harold Spaeth, Pablo Spiller, Jim Spriggs, Justin Wedeking, and the editor and anonymous reviewers of Social Science Quarterly for providing helpful feedback and comments on this and our related work. We are also greatly indebted to Lee Epstein, Jeffrey Segal, and Harold Spaeth for making the data used here publicly available through the Digital Archive of the Papers of Harry A. Blackmun.

Direct correspondence to Christina L. Boyd, Department of Political Science, 520 Park Hall (North Campus), University at Buffalo-SUNY, Buffalo, NY 14260 〈〉.



We investigate whether informational cues differentially affect a petition for review at each stage of the U.S. Supreme Court's agenda-setting process. We specifically test how the cost of identifying a cue and the degree of information provided within it affect the cue's impact.


We use a random sample of archival data obtained from the private papers of Justice Harry A. Blackmun to jointly analyze the Court's discuss list and final outcome decisions.


Confirming our expectations, we find that both positive cues and negative cues play different roles across the two stages of the Court's agenda-setting process.


These findings are noteworthy since they suggest that the impact of some commonly studied case attributes differs between when a case is selected for the initial level of review versus when it is added to the Court's plenary docket.