Grace Hertzog

SCOTUS and Public Opinion: Do the Justices Really Care What the Public Think?

The U.S. Supreme Court makes decisions about some of the most important legal issues facing the nation, from same-sex marriage to gun rights, to freedom of speech. Recently, with the overturning of Roe v. Wade (1973), many more people than usual seem to care about the Court's decision making process. For justices, who sit on the bench for life, these public views may not matter much as the justices never have to face reelection. But do the justices care what the public and the press think about them and the Court more generally? To answer this question, I used Justice Harry A. Blackmun's papers (located at the Library of Congress) to determine the extent to which at least he thought about people beyond the ivory tower. I used Blackmun's papers because he was known to keep newspaper clippings, medical journals, letters, and law reviews that people sent him during his time on the Court. Thus, he provides a good cases study to test my question of interest. To do so I drew a random sample of non-salient and salient case files and then counted the number of outside materials he kept about a case and whether they were positive, negative, or neutral analyses about the decision to which they are attached.