How Courts Structure State-Level Representation

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7 Scopus citations


I examine how courts condition the relationship between state-level public opinion and policy. The system of federalism in the United States allows federal and state courts to establish the types of policies that states are constitutionally allowed to implement. In particular, federal courts can set “federal floors” for policy, below which no states can go. State courts, in turn, can raise the level of this floor. Thus, both federal and state courts shape whether state policy can match the preferences of the median voter in a given state. Analyzing data on public opinion, judicial decisions, and state-level policy on the issue of abortion, from 1973 to 2012, I show that changes in the set of allowable abortion restrictions, according to the combined decisions of state and federal courts, significantly affect whether states implement majority-preferred policies. I also show that ignoring the influence of courts on the policymaking environment significantly affects the estimated level of policy congruence and thus conclusions about the scope of representation. These results demonstrate the importance of placing courts in the larger study of state-level representation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-60
Number of pages34
JournalState Politics and Policy Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Political Science and International Relations


  • abortion policy
  • courts
  • federal/state
  • federalism
  • judicial politics
  • public opinion
  • public policy
  • representation


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