Author ORCID Identifier

Date of Award

Spring 5-6-2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Amy Steigerwalt

Second Advisor

Robert Howard

Third Advisor

Michael Fix

Fourth Advisor

Toby Bolsen


Research surrounding how much influence the public has on the U.S. Supreme Court offers conflicting results. Some scholars argue that because the Court is politically insulated it does not pay much attention to what the public desires when deciding cases. Others suggest the Court’s decisions reflect prevailing public moods. I join in this debate and argue that public opinion indirectly influences the Court by motivating key actors to support cases and file briefs, thereby helping shape the Court’s agenda. When powerful attorneys such as the Solicitor General or large D.C. law firms are involved in a petition for certiorari, there is a higher likelihood that these petitions will be granted certiorari. In addition, I argue public attention spurs action among special interest groups in the form of Amicus curiae briefs and gets the attention of powerful lawyers and government appointees. Once again, these actions increase the likelihood of a case being heard on the merits. I use data from social media to determine how much specific issue areas are being talked about among the American public and build models showing how increased attention leads to discernible effects on the certiorari process at the U.S. Supreme Court. I find that the public, albeit indirectly, does have an impact on what petitions are given more attention by the U.S. Supreme Court. Many have argued that the Court is immune from public pressure, and these findings give evidence against that argument.