Date of Publication

Spring 2011

Degree Type

Honors Thesis

Department

Political Science & International Studies

Abstract

The United States Supreme Court is one of the most influential government institutions in America. As gatekeepers of our nation’s integrity, they are expected to bypass their own beliefs on certain issues and make decisions based purely on precedence and the laws of the Constitution of the United States. But how much of a Supreme Court justice’s decision is influenced by his or her personal ideology? This paper seeks to determine if a significant correlation exists between a given justice’s ideology and their voting patterns by analyzing death penalty decisions specifically. Analysis was conducted by finding an external rating for each justice’s ideology, called Martin-Quinn scores, and comparing them with a “conservativeness scale” that was derived from 25 death penalty decisions. The results show that a strong correlation exists between a Supreme Court justice’s ideology and the way they vote in death penalty cases. The findings of this project bring to light other serious questions: Based on the pattern of voting, can we say that the Supreme Court – theoretically the most objective American institution – can ever be truly unbiased? Is this expectation of objectivity realistic? Are the biases that are manifested in the Supreme Court’s decisions a violation of American democracy?

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Jurisprudence Commons

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