Date of Award

2016

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

Political Science

Sub-Department

College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Kirk A. Randazzo

Second Advisor

Donald R. Songer

Abstract

My dissertation explores three core questions. First, how is information regarding the preferences of judicial actors communicated within the American federal judiciary? Second, can U.S. Supreme Court justices meaningfully signal their policy preferences, vis-á-vis their decisions, to judges on the U.S. Courts of Appeals? Finally, what impact do such signals have on the propensity of lower courts judges to follow the precedents of the Supreme Court? The primary objective of this project is to identify the conditions that either increase or decrease the likelihood that judges on the courts of appeals comply with the precedents of the Supreme Court. I develop a theory in which information regarding the preferences of judicial actors flows dynamically within the courts. Specifically, I theorize that key Supreme Court signals and circuitlevel influences, together, drive circuit court attentiveness to precedents. Lower court application of the Supreme Court’s decisions, in turn, communicate information up the judicial ladder of the policy position of precedents. My findings demonstrate that not only is the Supreme Court capable of communicating information, but that such cues substantially influence lower federal court decision making and their interpretations of precedent. My results notably depart from earlier findings in that they demonstrate that ideological preferences has a more nuanced impact on the adoption of the Court’s precedents. This study contributes to our understanding of learning within the judicial hierarchy by identifying new mechanisms through judicial decision makers are able to communicate their legal and policy preferences. The implications of my analysis offer new insights on the influence of stare decisis and decision-making behavior within the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Courts of Appeals.

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