Authority and hierarchy in state and U.S. Supreme Court interactions

Reddick, Gavin, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Obrien, David, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

This thesis seeks to examine state court responses to U.S. Supreme Court remands. I look at cases that have been successfully appealed to the Supreme Court to see if the winning party prevails at the state court on remand. If they do win, I label this as deferential behavior by the state court. When a case is remanded from the U.S. Supreme Court, the state courts do not have to defer. Instead, they can avoid doing so in a number of ways, including denying that the points raised by the Court affect their decision and invoking their state constitution. I test a number of hypotheses generated by four theories of judicial behavior (simple legal, simple attitudinal, persuasion and strategic) that predict different effects of the strength of the Supreme Court mandate on the state court response. I operationalize the strength of the mandate using the number of justices joining the majority opinion and the number and type of separate opinions written in the case. I control for the form of the remand order, the level of the state court, whether the case is before or after Michigan v. Long,1 whether the case concerns an economic issue, whether the Court’s ruing is per curiam and whether the Supreme Court opinion is more liberal than the original state court decision. I test these hypotheses on all of the cases successfully appealed from the state courts to the Supreme Court from the 1970 to 2000 terms with published state court responses. If the strength of mandate does indeed affect the way in which state courts treat remands from the Court, then it could mean that individual justices have an important role to play in determining whether or not state courts follow the U.S. Supreme Court. I find that there is evidence to support the importance of mandate strength effects, although the nature of the effect is itself surprising.

MA (Master of Arts)
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