Doctoral Dissertation Research: Institutional Influences on Agenda-Setting in State Courts of Last Resort

Project: Research project

Project Details


Political institutions play an important role in shaping the government's attention to different issues and the types of policies adopted, including by courts and other judicial bodies. Existing research has focused on the U.S. Supreme Court, but because the Court has not undergone significant institutional change over time, our understanding of how institutional rules and procedures influence courts' agendas is limited. This project develops a generalized model of judicial agenda-setting that accounts for both the motives and behavior of judges and litigants, interacting within specific institutional structures. The project evaluates institutional characteristics that shape courts' agendas, including the nature of the court's jurisdiction (mandatory vs. discretionary) and the rules for granting appeals,. The project empirically tests several hypotheses derived from this model with data from state supreme courts.

The project will innovate in the analysis of court decisions by using automated text analysis in addition to supervised topic coding to measure the issue attention and procedural path of all recorded state supreme court decisions published in the 2000s. In doing so, the project will create the first dataset of discretionary appeals that were rejected by those courts without a decision on the merits. These measures are combined with data on institutional characteristics that are predicted to influence the actions of individual judges and litigants. Analysis of these data will contribute to understanding how judicial rules of procedure and the individual motivations of judges and litigants influence a court's overall policy agenda and the specific cases heard by the court.

This research thus comprises the first comprehensive study of state-level appellate agenda-setting in the United States, and has the potential to inform policy decisions regarding judicial selection and retention, institutional design, and judicial administration. The project will also contribute to training students in methods in the social sciences.

Effective start/end date7/15/146/30/16


  • National Science Foundation: $29,344.00


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