Social scientists have examined the role of policy decisions by U.S. political institutions that contribute to increased inequality and found that policymakers are more responsive to the preferences of economic elites than other citizens. Further, they find that political inequality is associated with economic inequality. Most of these findings are based on studies of federal legislation.
James Gibson and Michael Nelson will study the role of the judiciary, especially state courts, in shaping social, political, legal, and economic policies. They will investigate rulings by state high courts that pertain to multiple domains of inequality, including decisions on school funding equalization schemes, “employment at will” doctrines, state restrictions on citizens’ abilities to vote, and collective bargaining rights. They will analyze a database they have recently assembled on state supreme court decisions from 1990 to 2016. They will supplement this database with theoretically-derived explanatory variables that pertain to judges, courts, states, and the public, and test theories of the extent to which some courts and judges favor greater equality while others do not.