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Chapter 8 examines presidential remarks concerning Court cases prior to the modern presidency. This chapter enables us to place modern presidents in historical perspective and to illuminate how constitutional and political concerns motivated early presidents to discuss Court decisions. We examine all presidential remarks related to Supreme Court cases from 1789 through 1953 (Washington to Truman). We show that historic presidents rarely discussed the Court’s cases in their public rhetoric, choosing instead to share their opinions about the Court’s cases in their private correspondences. However, Theodore Roosevelt’s tenure marked the end of this norm, which was eviscerated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was in regular conflict with the Court.
Chapter 4 examines the tone of presidential discussions of Supreme Court cases, focusing on why presidents discuss cases in positive, negative, and neutral lights. We argue that presidents alter the tone of their remarks about the Court’s decisions in an effort to build public support for their presidencies, shape how the public views the constitutional issues at play, and influence the implementation of the Court’s decisions in the bureaucracy and in Congress. For example, a president happy with the Court’s decision can praise the decision and assure the country that he will take all steps necessary to ensure it is implemented. Conversely, a president displeased with a decision can criticize that decision and encourage Congress to take action to alter or reverse the decision, thus signaling that the fight over the case has not ended. Consistent with our theoretical expectations, we find that presidents criticize cases they disagree with ideologically; those that declare laws unconstitutional; and those decided by minimum winning coalitions. Conversely, presidents tend to praise salient Supreme Court decisions that support their preferred ideological positions.
Chapter 3 explores presidential rhetoric on cases that have already been decided by the Supreme Court. To investigate this, we examine all mentions of Supreme Court cases, by month, from 1953 to 2017. We differentiate written and spoken comments and show that while the former are used almost exclusively to direct the implementation of the Court’s decisions, the latter are designed to allow presidents to take positions on Court cases that are important to their electoral bases given the primacy of presidential speeches to presidents’ permanent campaigns for public support. Often, presidents will comment on recently decided cases to speak to issues that are timely and salient to the national policy conversation in an effort to guide those conversations. Indeed, we find that the presidents are especially likely to discuss Supreme Court cases during reelection years and when those cases garner media attention.
We conclude the book in Chapter 9. We begin by presenting data on the first 21.5 months of the Trump Administration and situate that information in light of our findings with regard to previous presidents as a way of bringing our empirical conclusions to life. We find that President Trump’s remarks on the Court’s cases are similar to previous presidents in many ways, but his rhetoric toward courts as institutions and lower-court judges is more vitriolic than his predecessors. We then review our key findings with regard to normative theoretical debates about judicial independence and the coordinate construction of the Constitution, and discuss their contributions to the study of the rhetorical presidency. We ultimately conclude that taking positions on Supreme Court decisions is a perfectly appropriate presidential governance strategy. We close by offering suggestions for future research on the important subject of executive-judicial relations in the US and across the globe.
Chapter 7 examines the relationship between presidential discussions of Supreme Court decisions and public opinion in two ways. First, we investigate whether presidents can influence the public’s views of the Supreme Court and its decisions through their public remarks. Second, we analyze whether presidents lead or follow public attitudes when they take positions on the Court’s cases. Using an original survey experiment, we find that presidents can shape public support for the Court’s decisions in low-salience issue areas, but they have a hard time molding public opinion in high-salience cases, such as immigration. We further find that presidents tend to take positions on the Court’s decisions that are congruent with public opinion on the issue areas featured in those cases, indicating that presidents are democratically responsive actors.
Chapter 2 explores the motivations for going public on pending Supreme Court decisions and the effect of these speeches on case outcomes. Though presidents commonly use speeches to shape the actions of Congress and the bureaucracy, this is a risky tactic with regard to the Supreme Court, since it makes the president susceptible to attacks for violating the norm of judicial independence. Moreover, it is not entirely clear why a president would turn to public speeches to influence the justices when the Solicitor General is available to litigate cases or file amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs before the Court on behalf of the administration. We conclude that presidents’ primary motivation to speak about pending cases is not to influence their outcomes, but rather to take public positions that demonstrate their commitment to the policies implicated in the litigation, including shaping how the public understands the constitutional issues involved in the cases.
Chapter 6 examines the relationship between presidential remarks on Supreme Court cases and news coverage of those remarks. We argue that presidents make concerted efforts to influence media coverage of their perspectives to mold how the public thinks about the constitutional issues involved in the Court’s cases. We examine the ability of presidents to shape the volume of news attention to the Court’s cases, as well as the tone of newspaper coverage of the president’s remarks (using Lexicoder text analysis software) for all New York Times coverage of presidential speeches on Supreme Court decisions from 1953 to 2017. We find that presidents are capable of influencing the volume of news coverage of their discussions of Court cases, with coverage associated with the length and type of the presidential statement, the tone presidents use to describe the cases, and the timing and location of the speech, among other factors. However, presidents are generally incapable of affecting the tone of media coverage of their remarks.
Our introductory chapter has several goals. First, we introduce the topic, identifying the popular conception that presidents discuss Supreme Court decisions in an effort to influence case outcomes. Second, we develop our theoretical argument, which begins with the well-grounded assumption that presidents pursue three primary goals while in office: good public policy, reelection, and historical achievement. In turn, presidents use their legitimate power and authority to realize these goals. Third, we preview the central motivation of the book: understanding why presidents discuss Supreme Court decisions in their public rhetoric and the impact of those statements. This includes examining whether presidents use their remarks to influence cases pending before the Court, or whether presidents comment on Supreme Court cases after they have been handed down in an effort to promote their reelection, policy goals, and historical legacies, as well as affect the implementation of the decisions and the public’s understanding of the Constitution. This chapter also presents survey data on Americans’ attitudes toward presidential discussions of Supreme Court decisions, and a discussion of the original database used throughout the book.
Chapter 5 examines the effect of presidential speeches on Congress. To do this, we explore instances in which presidents call for congressional action, such as passing a piece of legislation or proposing a constitutional amendment, from 1953 to 2017. These types of calls to Congress occur in about 20 percent of presidential speeches regarding decided cases. We then follow up on these pleas to Congress by investigating whether Congress acted on the presidents’ requests by introducing legislation or constitutional amendments to alter the Court’s decisions. We find evidence that Congress does respond to the president, often introducing or passing legislation to alter the Court’s decisions consistent with the president’s calls for action. Thus, this chapter contributes to our understanding of how the executive, legislative, and judicial branches do and do not coordinate to interpret the Constitution.
When presidents take positions on pending Supreme Court cases or criticize the Court's decisions, they are susceptible to being attacked for acting as bullies and violating the norm of judicial independence. Why then do presidents target Supreme Court decisions in their public appeals? In this book, Paul M. Collins, Jr and Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha argue that presidents discuss the Court's decisions to demonstrate their responsiveness to important matters of public policy and to steer the implementation of the Court's decisions. Using data from Washington to Trump, they show that, far from being bullies, presidents discuss cases to promote their re-election, policy goals, and historical legacies, while attempting to affect the impact of Court decisions on the bureaucracy, Congress, the media, and the public.