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American Public Opinion and the Modern Supreme Court, 1930–2020: A Representative Institution, Thomas R. Marshall

Reviewed by Nancy B. Arrington
 

Thomas R. Marshall leverages several decades worth of public opinion polling to assess the extent to which Supreme Court decisions are (or are not) consistent with majority public opinion. By matching public opinion poll questions to key issues in Supreme Court cases around the time of a case decision, Marshall finds that “three-fifths to two-thirds of modern Court decisions represent public opinion” (60). Chapter one outlines how changes over time have shaped perceptions of the Court as a representative institution and summarizes public opinion polls that might give insight into how the public views the Court’s representative role.

Chapter two describes various ways of comparing public opinion to Supreme Court decisions and makes the case that poll-matching—that is, matching national, public opinion survey questions to key issues of Supreme Court cases during the time that a court case is decided—is an effective method for measuring representation in the context of the Court.

Chapter three asks how and when do Supreme Court decisions represent public opinion, do Supreme Court decisions sway public opinion, and does the Court reflect public opinion as well as other policymakers? Marshall finds that the Court reflects public opinion slightly more often (66% versus 63% of the time) when public opinion has a strong majority

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