Preserving Institutional Power: The Supreme Court and Strategic Decision Making in the Separation of Powers


  • Acknowledgements: An earlier version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, IL, in April 2012. We wish to thank the editor of Politics & Policy, Emma R. Norman, and three anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and suggestions.


We argue that the Supreme Court's long-term goal of maintaining legitimacy and institutional power reflects an underdeveloped strategic consideration in models of judicial decision making. Our article posits that both institutional- and policy-related incentives exist for the Court to engage in strategic behavior, and that those motivations may be differentially applicable to decision making in constitutional versus statutory cases. Our results offer broad confirmation of the above hypotheses, providing an important supplement to our understanding of how Congress may affect the Supreme Court's role in constructing legal policy.

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McKenzie, Mark Jonathan, and Michael A. Unger. 2011. “ ‘New Style’ Campaigning, Citizen Knowledge, and Sources of Legitimacy for State Courts: A Case Study in Texas.” Politics & Policy 39 (5): 813-834. Sharma, Hemant, and John M. Scheb II. 2011. “The Impact of Divided Government on the Supreme Court Appointment Process: An Assessment of Judicial Extremism, 1946–2009.” Politics & Policy 39 (6): 1077-1105. Curry, Brett, and Banks Miller. 2008. “Looking for Law in All the Wrong Places? Foreign Law and Support for the U.S. Supreme Court.” Politics & Policy 36 (6): 1094-1124.

Related Media

Film Clips: Hoover Institution. 2012. “Uncommon Knowledge with Justice Antonin Scalia.” Big Think. 2012. “Stephen Breyer on Globalization and the Supreme Court.”


Nuestro argumento es que la meta de largo plazo de mantener poder institucional y legitimidad de la Suprema Corte refleja una consideración estratégica subdesarrollada de los modelos de hechura de decisiones judiciales. Nuestro estudio postula que incentivos tanto institucionales como los relacionados con políticas existen para que la corte incurra en un comportamiento estratégico y que tales motivaciones podrían ser diferenciadamente aplicables a la hechura de decisiones cuando se confrontan casos constitucionales contra reglamentarios. Los resultados ofrecen amplia confirmación de las hipótesis mencionadas, ofreciendo un suplemento importante para entender cómo el Congreso puede afectar el papel de la Suprema Corte en la construcción de políticas legales.