Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

Major Professor

Richard L. Pacelle Jr.

Committee Members

Stephanie A. Bohon, Nathan J. Kelly, John M. Scheb


Scholars examining the relationship between the federal appellate courts and the US Supreme Court have heretofore explored a myriad of explanations for how the Supreme Court determines which cases it will accept for review, including the ideological relationships between the justices and the circuit judges (and courts) and the resource statuses of the petitioning and responding parties. What scholars have overlooked is why some litigants appeal to the Supreme Court at all, given the low rate of review by the Court and the high costs (financial and otherwise) of an appeal. Scholars have also overlooked how changes in these relationships over time, and across circuits, affect both the rates of appeals, and the rates of review by the Supreme Court, in the aggregate. I hypothesize that greater ideological disagreements between the circuits and the high court increase the rates of appeals over time, and I hypothesize that increases in the resource divide between the “haves” and “have nots” will depress appeals over time. Similarly, I hypothesize that greater ideological disagreements between the circuits and the Supreme Court, as well as an increase in resource discrepancies between Supreme Court petitioners and respondents, will increase and decrease, respectively, grants of certiorari review by the high court. Using the Court of Appeals Database for the years 1983 to 2009, I conduct a pooled time series analysis, and after controlling for other factors I find mixed support for my hypotheses – including the possibility that the signals sought by litigants in determining whether to appeal are not the same signals sought by the justices in determining whether to review a lower court decision. I conclude by discussing reasons for these findings, as well as recommendations for future research inquiries.

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