ACLU Influence on Supreme Court Decisions through Amicus Curiae Briefs

Open Access
Azzaro, Shannon Danielle
Area of Honors:
Political Science
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Christopher Jon Zorn, Thesis Supervisor
  • Michael Barth Berkman, Honors Advisor
  • ACLU
  • Supreme Court
  • Amicus Curiae
  • Interest Group
  • Civil Liberties
I examine the factors that affect the influence of interest groups, specifically the ACLU, on the Supreme Court’s decisions through amicus curiae briefs from 1969-2005. As one of the most active advocates of civil rights and liberties, the ACLU has historically played a large role in shaping the Court’s opinions. I explore the factors that have led the ACLU to continue to play an important role in the court: brief effectiveness, filing strategy, recognition, and the ACLU’s case-selection strategy. I examine when the ACLU files briefs and analyzing brief effectiveness by measuring success rates against the success rates of cases without an ACLU brief. In addition, I measure success rates across issue areas and when the ACLU files to affirm or reverse the lower court’s decision. I draw a comparison between cases in which the ACLU files alone and cases in which the ACLU files with others as a part of a coalition. In order to better depict the ACLU’s effectiveness on the micro-level, I also examine success at the individual justice-vote level. These quantitative measures are interwoven with insight into the ACLU’s history and inner workings drawn from an interview with the legal director of the ACLU and a qualitative analysis of the ACLU’s filing strategy.