Supreme Court, decision making, polarization, Political Science
Political polarization has been commonly observed in American politics and has drawn scholarly interest. In recent years, trends of polarization have appeared to increase in Congress, with Democrats and Republicans drifting further and further apart. Americans appear to be deeply split on many social issues which have resulted in culture wars in American politics. According to the legal model of judicial decision making, decisions handed down by the Supreme Court should be unaffected by these trends of polarization. However, recent scholarship, most notably the attitudinal model of judicial decision making, calls into question the legal model of decision making. It suggests that the personal political preferences of justices will explain the decisions they are making and, therefore, will cause polarization to be reflected on the Court. This study tests two theories of judicial decision making by analyzing the language used by Supreme Court Justices involving LGBTQ rights. LGBTQ rights have been identified by scholars as one of the culture war issues that has seen increased polarization along political lines. I use Nvivo to code landmark Supreme Court decisions discussing LGBTQ rights. I analyze the language used by the justices to find polarized language used by justices in the majority and dissenting justices. By testing the legal model and the attitudinal models of judicial decision making, I seek to add to the body of work on judicial decision making in polarized times.