Date of Award

Summer 8-12-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Robert Howard

Second Advisor

Dr. Amy Steigerwalt

Third Advisor

Dr. Michael Fix


Political scientists have conducted much work examining a court's decision on the merits of a case. We have concluded that ideology has a strong influence on the outcome on the merits of a decision. Furthermore, courts seek to render a decision that is closest to their own policy preferences. However, federal circuit courts within the judicial hierarchy are constrained by other actors according to the strategic model. There is an abundance of evidence showing that superior actors constrain courts' ideological preferences when such courts render decisions on the merits. However, there is a dearth of scholarship regarding judicial decision making on threshold issues. I argue that federal circuit courts set their judicial agendas by transforming their mandatory appellate jurisdiction into one that is discretionary. They achieve this goal by controlling the type of litigants who gain access to the courts by deciding cases on threshold grounds. I also argue that federal circuit courts are responsive to changes in Congress's ideology because Congress has power to control threshold issues through various mechanisms. I seek to establish that the grounds upon which as case is dismissed -- jurisdictional, justiciable, and procedural -- defines the parameters that constrain federal circuit courts.