Constraints and Conservatism: The Effect of Presidential Choices on Voting Patterns of Supreme Court Justices

Tyler McCall, Tower Center Cox Research Fellow, conducts a study exploring whether constrained choice Supreme Court justices are less faithful to their appointing president’s constitutional agenda than unconstrained choices. For context, when a president chooses a nominee based on political promises made or limitations imposed by other branches of government, that choice is constrained because those nominees must appeal to a broader political constituency and thus the selection pool is smaller. To answer this question, McCall assesses voting records across various justices’ tenures on three main issues: abortion, affirmative action, and the Establishment Clause.


McCall posits that constrained choices tend to follow their appointing presidents’ agendas less faithfully and aggressively than their unconstrained counterparts. This study reveals that bold headlines accusing judicial decisions of being completely politicized are false. 


To learn more about how some justices remain less politically motivated than others, click here.