My dissertation is titled The Threat of Non-Implementation and the Behavior of the Supreme Court: Empirical and Normative Assessments of Voting Behavior and Majority Opinion Construction.
It contains three chapters, all of which are described in more detail in the later pages. The overarching goal is to find out how the Supreme Court behaves under conditions that favor non-compliance in the executive branch with Court decisions. I focus one chapter on developing the theory of why the Court might decide cases differently if it had reason to fear that the executive branch would not implement its decisions faithfully. The upshot of chapter one is that under such conditions, the Court more often sides with the federal government so as to avoid institutionally damaging confrontations with the executive branch.
The second chapter adopts a similar theory, and applies it to how the Court writes its opinions. I find that the Court’s opinions are simpler under such conditions as described above (in that the sentences are shorter), and project less authoritativeness and confidence (measured by the LIWC Clout dimension). For more detail on these two projects, see their respective summary pages.
The third chapter assesses the political influence on the Court’s decisions. Some theories of the Court’s role in a democracy might be happy to endorse a Court constrained by political pressure, increasingly deferential to more and more extreme governments. Such conceptions come from such as Bickel, Waldron, Yoo, and from conservative jurists and legal scholars in general.
But I argue that these conceptions of the Court’s role rely on an impoverished conception of democracy that focuses unduly on institutional outcomes, and a superficial emphasis on the electoral connection. But these conceptions of democracy do not sufficiently take account of the formation of preferences, and of how power is distributed. I analyze power on its classical three dimensions, and argue that a true democracy is marked by its equal distribution of power, not by certain institutional features. Although the Court’s independence from politics is often cited as a problem for democracy, this conception dissolves those concerns, and argues that an independent Court that stands in the way of political action is not un-democratic as long as it serves to create or maintain the equal distribution of power, even if it means invalidating duly enacted laws or frustrating some popular preferences.