Agenda Setting

Agenda Setting

Note: for information on Certiorari, please see here.

Agenda Setting on the U.S. Supreme Court

The first important aspect to note are the institutional rules governing the Supreme Court’s agenda-setting decisions. Again, Congress has the ability to alter the Court’s appellate jurisdiction to determine which appeals it must hear versus those that it has the discretion to hear. But, of course, Congress does not specify how the Court should go about making its agenda-setting decisions.

The only guidelines the justices have in setting their agenda comes from the Court’s own self-established rules. Rule 10 of the Rules of the Supreme Court identifies the “character of reasons” that the Court should find compelling enough to grant review. These reasons include decisions issued by either state supreme courts or U.S. courts of appeals that conflict with either state courts of last resort, U.S. circuit courts, or the Supreme Court. They also include decisions in which either state supreme courts or federal circuit courts decide an issue that has never been settled by the Supreme Court, and lastly, when one of these courts departs “from the accepted and usual course of judicial proceedings”. The petitioner is required to discuss their case based on this list of circumstances.

Source: Elizabeth A. Lane and Ryan C. Black, OUP


See Also

Judicial politics, Supreme Court, Certiorari, Constitutional court, Public law

Further Reading

  • Baird, V. A. (2004). The effect of politically salient decisions on the U.S. Supreme Court’s agenda. Journal of Politics, 66(3), 755–772.
  • Baird, V. A. (2007). Answering the call of the court: How justices and litigants set the supreme court agenda. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.
  • Black, R. C., & Boyd, C. L. (2012a). U.S. Supreme Court agenda setting and the role of litigant status. Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, 28(2), 286–312.
  • Black, R. C., & Boyd, C. L. (January 2012b). The role of law clerks in the U.S. Supreme Court’s agenda-setting process. American Politics Research, 40(1), 147–173.
  • Black, R. C., & Boyd, C. L. (December 2013). Selecting the select few: The discuss list and the U.S. Supreme Court’s agenda-setting process. Social Science Quarterly, 94(4), 1124–1144.
  • Black, R. C., Boyd, C. L., & Bryan, A. C. (2014). Revisiting the influence of law clerks on the us supreme court’s agenda-setting process. Marquette Law Review, 98, 75.
  • Black, R. C., & Owens, R. J. (2009a). Agenda setting in the Supreme Court: The collision of policy and jurisprudence. Journal of Politics, 71(3), 1062–1075.
  • Black, R. C., & Owens, R. J. (2009b). Analyzing the reliability of Supreme Court justices’ agenda-setting records. Justice System Journal, 30(3), 254–264.
  • Black, R. C., & Owens, R. J. (2011). Solicitor general influence and agenda setting on the U.S. Supreme Court. Political Research Quarterly, 64(4), 765–778.
  • Black, R. C., & Owens, R. J. (2012a). The solicitor general and the United States Supreme Court: Executive branch influence and judicial decisions. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
  • Black, R. C., & Owens, R. J. (2012b). Looking back to move forward: quantifying policy predictions in political decision making. American Journal of Political Science, 56(4), 802–816.
  • Black, R. C., & Owens, R. J. (2012c). Consider the source (and the message) Supreme Court Justices and strategic audits of lower court decisions. Political Research Quarterly, 65(2), 385–395.
  • Black, R. C., & Owens, R. J. (2016). Courting the president: How circuit court judges alter their behavior for promotion to the Supreme Court. American Journal of Political Science, 60(1), 30–43.
  • Black, R. C., Sorenson, M. W., & Johnson, T. R. (2013, December). Toward an actor-based measure of Supreme Court case salience information-seeking and engagement during oral arguments. Political Research Quarterly, 66(4), 804–818.
  • Blake, W. D., Hacker, H. J., & Hopwood, S. R. (2015, December). Seasonal affective disorder: Clerk training and the success of Supreme Court certiorari petitions. Law & Society Review, 49(4), 973–997.
  • Bonica, A., Chilton, A. S., Goldin, J., Rozema, K., & Sen, M. (2016). The political ideologies of law lerks. American Law and Economics Review.
  • Brenner, S. (1979). The new certiorari game. Journal of Politics, 41(2), 649–655.
  • Brenner, S., & Krol, J. F. (1989). Strategies in certiorari voting on the united states supreme court. Journal of Politics, 51(4), 828–840.
  • Brenner, S., & Palmer, J. (1990). The law clerks’ recommendations and Chief Justice Vinson’s Vote on Certiorari. American Politics Quarterly, 18(1), 68–80.
  • Caldeira, G. A., & Wright, J. R. (1988). Organized interests and agenda setting in the U.S. Supreme Court. American Political Science Review, 82(4), 1109–1127.
  • Caldeira, G. A., & Wright, J. R. (1990). Amici curiae before the Supreme Court: Who participates, when, and how much? Journal of Politics, 52(3), 782–806.
  • Caldeira, G. A., Wright, J. R., & Zorn, C. J. W. (1999, October). Sophisticated voting and gate-keeping in the Supreme Court. Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization, 15(3), 549–572.
  • Clark, T. S., Lax, J. R., & Rice, D. (2015). Measuring the political salience of Supreme Court cases. Journal of Law & Courts, 3(1), 37–65.
  • Collins, T. A., & Cooper, C. A. (2012). Case salience and media coverage of Supreme Court decisions: Toward a new measure. Political Research Quarterly, 65(2), 396–407.
  • Epstein, L., & Knight, J. (1998). The choices judges make. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly.
  • Epstein, L., & Knight, J. (2000). Toward a strategic revolution in judicial politics: a look back, a look ahead. Political Research Quarterly, 53(3), 625–661.
  • Epstein, L., & Segal, J. A. (2000). Measuring issue salience. American Journal of Political Science, 44(1), 66–83.
  • Epstein, L., Segal, J. A., & Victor, J. N. (2002). Dynamic agenda-setting on the United States Supreme Court: An empirical assessment. Harvard Journal on Legislation, 39, 395.
  • Federal Judicial Center. (2015). Historical caseloads of the federal courts.
  • Feldman, A. (October 17, 2016,). Dissents from Denial of Cert (2010–2015).
  • Gooch, D. M. (2015). Ideological polarization on the Supreme Court trends in the Court’s institutional environment and across regimes, 1937–2008. American Politics Research.
  • Harvey, A., & Friedman, B. (2009, April). Ducking trouble: Congressionally induced selection bias in the Supreme Court’s agenda. Journal of Politics, 71(2), 574–592.
  • Klein, D. E., & Hume, R. J. (2003). Fear of reversal as an explanation of lower court compliance. Law & Society Review, 37(3), 579–581.
  • Hurwitz, M. S. (July 2006). Institutional arrangements and the dynamics of agenda formation in the U.S. Supreme Court and courts of appeals. Law & Policy, 28(3), 321–344.
  • Krol, J. F., & Brenner, S. (1990). Strategies in certiorari voting on the United States Supreme Court: A reevaluation. Western Political Quarterly, 43(2), 335–342.
  • Kromphardt, C. D. (2014). Fielding an excellent team: Law clerk selection and chambers structure at the U.S. Supreme Court. Marquette Law Review, 98, 289.
  • Landes, W. M. (1971). An economic analysis of the courts. Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization.
  • Liptak, A. (2008, September 25). A second justice opts out of a longtime custom: The “cert. pool.” The New York Times.
  • Mak, M., Sidman, A. H., & Sommer, U. (2013, March). Is certiorari contingent on litigant behavior? Petitioners’ role in strategic auditing. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 10(1), 54–75.
  • Maltzman, F., Spriggs, J. F., & Wahlbeck, P. J. (2000). Crafting law on the supreme court: The collegial game. Cambridge University Press.
  • Maltzman, F., & Wahlbeck, P. J. (1996a). Inside the U.S. Supreme Court: The reliability of the justices’ conference records. Journal of Politics, 58(2), 528–539.
  • Maltzman, F., & Wahlbeck, P. J. (1996b). May it please the chief? Opinion assignments in the Rehnquist Court. American Journal of Political Science, 40(2), 421–443.
  • Maltzman, F., & Wahlbeck, P. J. (2004). A conditional model of opinion assignment on the Supreme Court. Political Research Quarterly, 57(4), 551–563.
  • O’Brien, D. M. (1997). Join-3 votes, the rule of four, the cert. pool, and the Supreme Court’s shrinking plenary docket. Journal of Law & Policy, 13, 779.
  • Owens, R. J. (2010). The separation of powers and supreme court agenda setting. American Journal of Political Science, 54(2), 412–427.
  • Owens, R. J., & Simon, D. A. (March 2011). Explaining the Supreme Court’ shrinking docket. William and Mary Law Review, 53(4), 1219.
  • Find this resource:
  • Owens, R. J., Tahk, A., Wohlfarth, P. C., & Bryan, A. C. (2015). Nominating commissions, judicial retention, and forward-looking behavior on state supreme courts an empirical examination of selection and retention methods. State Politics & Policy Quarterly, 15(2), 211–238.
  • Palmer, J. (1982). An econometric analysis of the us supreme court’s certiorari decisions. Public Choice, 39(3), 387–398.
  • Palmer, J., & Brenner, S. (1995). The Law Clerks’ Recommendations and the conference vote on-the-merits on the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice System Journal, 18(2), 185–197.
  • Peppers, T. C. (2006). Courtiers of the marble palace: The rise and influence of the supreme court law clerk. Stanford University Press.
  • Perry, H. W. (1991). Deciding to decide: Agenda setting in the United States Supreme Court. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Peters, C. S. (September 2007). Getting Attention The Effect of Legal Mobilization on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Attention to Issues. Political Research Quarterly, 60(3), 561–572.
  • Provine, D. M. (1980). Case selection in the United States Supreme Court. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Rice, D. (March 2014). The impact of Supreme Court activity on the judicial agenda. Law & Society Review, 48(1), 63–90.
  • Segal, J. A., & Spaeth, H. J. (1993). The Supreme Court and the attitudinal model. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
  • Segal, J. A., & Spaeth, H. J. (2002). The Supreme Court and the attitudinal model revisited. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
  • Sommer, U. (2011). How rational are justices on the supreme court of the United States? Doctrinal considerations during agenda setting. Rationality & Society, 23(4), 452–477.
  • Songer, D. R. (1979). Concern for policy outputs as a cue for Supreme Court decisions on certiorari. Journal of Politics, 41(4), 1185–1194.
  • Songer, D. R., Cameron, C. M., & Segal, J. A. (1995). An empirical test of the rational-actor theory of litigation. Journal of Politics, 57(4), 1119–1129.
  • Spaeth, H. J. (2004). Relisting: An unexamined feature of Supreme Court decision making. Justice System Journal, 25(2), 143–158.
  • Spriggs, J. F., Maltzman, F., & Wahlbeck, P. J. (1999). Bargaining on the US Supreme Court: Justices’ responses to majority opinion drafts. Journal of Politics, 61(2), 485–506.
  • Stevens, J. P. (1983). The life span of a judge-made rule. New York University Law Review, 58, 1.
  • Tanenhaus, J., Schick, M., Muraskin, M., & Rosen, D. (1963). The Supreme Court’s certiorari jurisdiction: Cue theory. Judicial Decision-Making, 111, 127.
  • Thompson, D. C., & Wachtell, M. (2009). An empirical analysis of supreme court certiorari petition procedures: The call for response and the call for the views of the solicitor general. George Mason Law Review, 16(2).
  • Ulmer, S. S. (1983). Conflict with Supreme Court precedent and the granting of plenary review. Journal of Politics, 45(2), 474–478.
  • Ulmer, S. S. (1984). The Supreme Court’s certiorari decisions: Conflict as a predictive variable. American Political Science Review, 78(4), 901–911.
  • Wahlbeck, P. J., Spriggs, J. F., & Maltzman, F. (1998). Marshalling the Court: Bargaining and accommodation on the United States Supreme Court. American Journal of Political Science, 42(1), 294–315.
  • Ward, A., & Weiden, D. L. (2006). Sorcerers’ apprentices: 100 years of law clerks at the United States Supreme Court. New York: New York University Press.
  • Zorn, C. J. W. (2002). U.S. Government litigation strategies in the Federal Appellate Courts. Political Research Quarterly, 55(1), 145–166.

Agenda Setting: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Agenda Setting. This part provides references, in relation to Agenda Setting, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Agenda Setting by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Agenda Setting and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Agenda Setting or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Agenda Setting and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Agenda Setting. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Agenda Setting should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Agenda Setting when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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