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Undergraduate Researchers

David K. Pourshoushtari, Political Science

Justice Sotomayor and the Legitimacy of the Supreme Court

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Tyson King-Meadows


This paper examines public perceptions of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor after the first series of oral arguments of the 2009-2010 term, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Using national survey data to examine public attitudes toward Justice Sotomayor, we examined affect, perception of her impact, and attentiveness to her inaugural activities. The data revealed that not only did conservative respondents generally hold unfavorable views of Sotomayor, but that they also had a tendency to believe she would likely have a more liberal impact on the Supreme Court. The study also revealed that conservative respondents paid less attention to Sotomayor’s performance than did liberal respondents. These findings suggest that affect towards Sotomayor among conservatives remains relatively low, and that conservatives still believe Sotomayor will shift the court in a more liberal direction, despite her succeeding a liberal judge in David Souter. As a result, Justice Sotomayor may indeed weaken the otherwise consistent legitimacy the overall public affords the Supreme Court.

How did you find your mentor for this project?

I met Dr. King-Meadows at the UMBC on-campus job fair in the Fall of 2009. I had never taken classes with him, but he was seeking undergraduate research assistants, with a preference for Political Science majors. I got the job and I aided him with the research he is currently working on.


How did you know this was the project you wanted to do?

My goal after I graduate from UMBC is to attend law school, so I have always had a particular interest in law and in the Supreme Court in particular. Never having undertaken this kind of a project, it was an exciting opportunity for me to expand skill set and learn more about the academic field of Political Science.


How much time did you put in?

I began working on this project in December of 2009, and made a conscious effort to devote five to ten hours per week while trying to balance the other six classes I was taking in Spring 2010.


You had a research travel grant from the school, how did you hear about this?

Dr. King-Meadows encouraged me to apply to present my research to the Midwest Political Science Association National Conference. When my work was accepted heinformed me about the travel funds and how to apply for them. He impressed upon me how important it would be to travel to Chicago for this conference. He was right. I learned a great deal from the presentations of other political scientists.


Was the application difficult to do?

The hardest part was trying to write a clear, concise proposal to convince the committee that the work I was working on was important enough to justify school funding.


How much did your mentor help you with this?

He helped me a lot, since he has so much experience with requests for research grants.


What is your advice to other students about getting involved with research?

Make sure to get to know many professors from your discipline, since there may be professors looking for assistants who will be willing to take you on, even if you haven't taken any classes with them. Otherwise, work hard in all of your classes and maintain a good relationship with your professors, you never know when one may notice your hard work and take a chance on you.


What was the most unexpected thing about this research?

How much of a commitment this project was. It essentially felt like I was taking a seventh class. If you undertake a research project, be ready to work your tail off.


How does your research relate to your work in other classes?

There are many classes here at UMBC that specialize in teaching students about our judicial system and the topic of identity politics. There are also classes that include institution legitimacy within their curriculum. In addition to this, my research called for me to make heavy use of the SPSS program so that I could study my data. The POLI 300 class gave me the proper background knowledge I needed so that I could navigate my way through this extensive program