Law and Disorder: Why Does the Supreme Court Challenge and Invalidate Federal Laws?

Open Access
Arnold, Emily Marie
Area of Honors:
Political Science
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Dr. Michael Nelson, Thesis Supervisor
  • Dr. Gretchen Casper, Honors Advisor
  • supreme court
  • congress
  • federal laws
  • judicial review
It only takes the votes of five unelected justices on the Supreme Court to invalidate a federal law passed by hundreds of elected members of Congress. The Court’s ability to challenge and potentially rule federal laws unconstitutional is formally called judicial review. This paper is concerned with examining judicial review and determining what attributes of laws encourage justices to use this power. After running logit regressions testing my hypotheses, my results suggest the following: 1) the more votes a law receives at its passage, the more likely that law will be both challenged and invalidated; 2) the more support a law has from the current Congress at the time of potential challenge, the less likely that law will be both challenged and invalidated; 3) as the age of the law increases, the likelihood of that law being challenged increases; 4) the type of government (unified or divided) that passes a law has no effect on whether or not that law will be challenged or invalidated; 5) once laws are challenged, there is little telling of whether or not they will be invalidated. The implications of these results demonstrate that congressional preferences play a strong role in influencing judicial decisions, and the law’s age is a very important factor in determining if or when the Court will address the constitutionality of a law as well.