Judicial Politics In Polarized Times

Paperback | December 3, 2014

byThomas M. Keck

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When the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, some saw the decision as a textbook example of neutral judicial decision making, noting that a Republican Chief Justice joined the Court’s Democratic appointees to uphold most provisions of the ACA. Others characterized the decision as the latest example of partisan justice and cited the actions of a bloc of the Court’s Republican appointees, who voted to strike down the statute in its entirety. Still others argued that the ACA’s fate ultimately hinged not on the Court but on the outcome of the 2012 election. These interpretations reflect larger stories about judicial politics that have emerged in polarized America. Are judges neutral legal umpires, unaccountable partisan activists, or political actors whose decisions conform to—rather than challenge—the democratic will?

Drawing on a sweeping survey of litigation on abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, and gun rights across the Clinton, Bush, and Obama eras, Thomas M. Keck argues that, while each of these stories captures part of the significance of judicial politics in polarized times, each is also misleading. Despite judges’ claims, actual legal decisions are not the politically neutral products of disembodied legal texts. But neither are judges “tyrants in robes,” undermining democratic values by imposing their own preferences. Just as often, judges and the public seem to be pushing in the same direction. As for the argument that the courts are powerless institutions, Keck shows that their decisions have profound political effects. And, while advocates on both the left and right engage constantly in litigation to achieve their ends, neither side has consistently won. Ultimately, Keck argues, judges respond not simply as umpires, activists, or political actors, but in light of distinctive judicial values and practices.

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When the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, some saw the decision as a textbook example of neutral judicial decision making, noting that a Republican Chief Justice joined the Court’s Democratic appointees to uphold most provisions of the ACA. Others characterized the decision as the latest example of partisan justice and cit...

Thomas M. Keck is the Michael O. Sawyer Chair of Constitutional Law and Politics at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He is the author of The Most Activist Supreme Court in History, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:352 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.9 inPublished:December 3, 2014Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022618241X

ISBN - 13:9780226182414

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Table of Contents

 

Preface
Introduction Three Stories about Courts

Part I Rights on the Left, and Rights on the Right
One Rights on the Left
Two Rights on the Right

Part II Courts, Democracy, and Policy Change
Three Are Judges Umpires?
Four Are Judges Tyrants?
Five Are Judges Sideshows?

Conclusion Judicial Politics in Polarized Times

Appendix A Coding Procedures for Polarization Analysis

Notes
References
Index

Online at http://press.uchicago.edu /sites/keck /

Appendix B Judicial Decisions Coded for Polarization Analysis
Appendix C Congressional Votes Coded for Polarization Analysis

Editorial Reviews

“Keck offers an insightful analysis of partisan politics and the judiciary in polarized times. . . . [His] analysis and research are balanced. And his discussion sheds light on what drives the constant onslaught of difficult culturally-charged lawsuits. . . . Those interested in the judicial-appointment process and the problems with partisan judging, those handling cases in the courts studied, and those who want to know more about hot-button issue litigation, will find this book extremely useful. I highly recommend it.”