The Effect of Amicus Curiae Briefs on the United States Supreme Court

Open Access
Harrison, Rachel Laura
Area of Honors:
Political Science
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Adam Nye, Thesis Supervisor
  • Gretchen Casper , Honors Advisor
  • Amicus Curiae Brief
  • United States Supreme Court
Over the course of the twentieth century, there has been a substantial increase in the number of amicus curiae briefs filed in the Supreme Court. These briefs provide the justices with important information from third parties regarding a case. Oftentimes, amicus briefs work to persuade the justices to decide a case in a certain manner. The government, interest groups, private citizens, and foreign entities all file these briefs. Through filing these briefs, they seek to promote their interests and viewpoints to the Court. As amicus brief participation has increased, the Court has been able to hear the opinions of individuals and entities it otherwise would not have been privy to. The United States Supreme Court is also the most insulated branch of government from public opinion, due to in part by the life-time tenures of the justices on the Court. This allows the members of the Court to make rulings without regard for public backlash or fear of being removed from the bench. These factors have led to research into what instances is the Court more or less likely to listen to the opinions of the amicus brief filers. Variables coded include the amount of language that the Court includes in its majority opinions from the filed amicus curiae briefs, whether the Court cites amicus briefs in the footnotes of its majority opinion, whether the brief filer is a public or private entity, the decision of the lower court, and the ideological direction of the Supreme Court’s decision in order to develop a better understanding of how influential these brief filers actually are to the Court. The results of this study indicate that there is a statistically significant relationship between the partisanship of the amicus brief filer and the majority decision of the Court. The decision of the lower court also had a statistically significant and negative relationship with the majority opinion of the Court, which demonstrates that there is a greater likelihood that the justices will overturn the decision of the lower court and produce an ideologically opposite majority opinion. The United States Solicitor General also had a high amicus brief success rate. Of the fifteen cases in which the Solicitor General filed an amicus brief, ten of the majority opinions of the Court reflected the same ideology set forth by the Solicitor General’s amicus brief.