Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

Major Professor

John Scheb

Committee Members

Otis Stephens, Michael Fitzgerald, David Houston, James Bemiller


An inherent contradiction exists between two fundamental principles embedded in American political philosophy: the notion of "checks and balances" and the idea of an "independent judiciary." After all, a truly "independent" branch of government would be immune to the influences, or "checks," of external institutions. This dissertation addresses that juxtaposition through a two part analysis of Supreme Court decision-making.

The first part uses multivariate regression to illustrate that justices confirmed under conditions of divided government are more moderate in their voting behavior than justices confirmed under conditions of unified government. Ancillary findings also reveal that justices who receive more votes during their Senate confirmation hearings will be more moderate in their voting behavior and that justices appointed by presidents with higher Gallup Approval Ratings tend to be more "extreme" in their voting behavior. Overall, the confirmation process appears to offer an avenue through which the executive and legislative branches can "check and balance" the voting outputs of the Supreme Court.

The second part of this dissertation assesses the degree to which justices remain independent from the influences of the "political" branches once they begin serving on the Court. Time series regression models indicate that Supreme Court justices are likely to vary their voting behavior in civil rights and civil liberties cases based on which party controls the White House at the time a vote is being cast. Evidence also shows that justices are likely to vary their voting behavior in economic cases based on which party is strongest in Congress. Beyond that, findings also suggest that justices exhibit differences in voting behavior while the appointing president is in office, and, surprisingly, that justices seem to grow more liberal in their voting behavior over time. Collectively, this information indicates that there are certain situations (such as case issues or time periods in a justice‘s tenure) in which Supreme Court justices are not entirely "independent" in their behavior. For those who cherish the ideal of judicial independence, this may be a deleterious development; conversely, for those who deride the expansive role that the Supreme Court may have taken in contemporary society, the implication of a link between democratic processes and voting outputs may be a sanguine pronouncement.

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