Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Dr. Lisa Driscoll

Committee Members

Dr. Sonya Hayes, Dr. Michael Fitzgerald, Dr. Patrick Biddix


The purpose of this qualitative content analysis was to examine how amici curiae frame policy preferences in amicus briefs submitted before the United States Supreme Court in the landmark case, Espinoza v. Montana (2020). The questions addressed in this study were what dominant policy frames do interest groups use to frame policy preference in Espinoza v. Montana (2020), and which (if any) policy frames found in the amicus briefs emerged in the written opinions of the United States Supreme Court?

Five a priori codes based on Semetko and Valkenburg’s (2000) generic frames were used to analyze 18 out of 45 amicus briefs and seven justices’ written opinions to identify which dominant frames emerged. The a priori codes included the attribution of responsibility frame, conflict frame, economic consequences frame, human interest frame, and morality frame. Using NVivo qualitative software, the researcher coded 1005 references across 18 amicus briefs and 180 references across seven written justices’ opinions for a total of 1185 references. The documents were coded on two separate occasions resulting in an .85 intra-rater reliability. Dominant frames were identified for petitioners and respondents and for the written opinions of the Supreme Court justices.

The most dominant frame across the amicus briefs and justices’ written opinions was the human interest fame. The next dominant fame was the conflict frame, and the third most dominant frame was the attribution of responsibility frame. The least dominant frames were the economic consequences frame and the morality frame respectively.

This study’s major limitation’s is that its primary focus was on the United States Supreme Court case Espinoza v. Montana (2020). Its applicability to other court cases should be called into question. A much broader study must be undertaken before the results of this study can be generalized to other court cases.

Although more research is needed to determine if Semetko and Valkenburg’s (2000) frames used in this study by amici curiae influenced judicial opinion in Espinoza, one implications of this study finds that frame analysis is a viable framework for studying how amici frame policy preferences in attempts to influence judicial outcomes.

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."