Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

Dissertations that have an embargo placed on them will not be available to anyone until the embargo expires.

Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Political Science

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

John Brigham

Second Advisor

Bruce A. Desmarais

Third Advisor

James A. Kitts

Subject Categories

Other Political Science


Questions regarding what persuades jurists—and how legal decisionmakers actually do their work—are profound, motivating, and complex. The Public Law subfield has worked diligently to obtain empirically principled answers, but the gaps that remain provide an opportunity for this project to (hopefully) make a contribution. After discussing the nature of judicial decisionmaking, it is reasoned that rather than trying to understand jurists based upon the ways that their biases come into their work, a more effective approach is to isolate the occasions where they make unbiased decisions. In the interest of furthering the argument, a theoretical framework is offered that aims to isolate the major factors that will influence a jurist to “follow the law.”

After a review of the state of the empirical study of judicial decisionmaking, three subprojects are presented, two of which tie directly to terms in the theoretical framework. The first is a novel effort to construct a network of case citations based upon specific language used in majority opinions. The second examines the propensity of Supreme Court Justices to cite to more “central” opinions when they are tending towards moderation in terms of ideology. The third subproject focuses on the often overlooked difficulty that scholars have when attempting to state with definitive certainty what an “unbiased” legal opinion actually is.

These three subprojects are modest efforts to open new directions in research. Not all of the results that have been obtained fully square with the theoretical expectations that preceded them.