Political Behavior, Vol. 23, No. 2, June 2001 (2001)
JUDICIAL BEHAVIOR AND
Popular Expectations Regarding the
Factors That Influence Supreme
John M. Scheb II and William Lyons
This article examines the mass public’s perceptions of the factors that actually influ-
ence Supreme Court decisions as well those that ought to influence such decisions.
We expect significant discrepancies between what the public believes ought to be the
case and what it perceives to actually be the case with regard to Supreme Court deci-
sion making and that these discrepancies have a significant negative impact on the
public’s assessment of the Court. More specifically,we hypothesize that the public
believes that political factors have more influence on the Court than “ought” to be
the case and that the public perceives traditional legal factors to be less influential
than they should be. We find that the expected discrepancies do exist and significantly
detract from popular regard for the Court.
Key words: judicial behavior; public opinion.
The controversy surrounding the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Bush
v. Gore raised anew an age-old question in American politics: Does the Court
merely interpret the law or does it enact its own political preferences? Ameri-
can political mythology holds that the former is true, but this “myth of legality”
(Scheb and Lyons, 2000) is called into question when the Court enters the
“political thicket”and, under intense media scrutiny, renders a decision with
immediate and profound political consequences. If over time the public (and,
especially, the political class) perceives the Court as “just another political
John M. Scheb II, Department of Political Science, 1001 McClung Tower, University of Ten-
nessee, Knoxville, TN 37996-0410 (firstname.lastname@example.org); William Lyons, Professor of Political Science,
University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996.
0190-9320/01/0600-0181/0 2001 Plenum Publishing Corporation