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Scholars 2009 - 2010

Wayne Heavener

Wayne Heavener, Political Science
"Consensus and Legitimacy in Supreme Court Opinions"
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jeffrey Davis
Expected Graduation Date: May 2011

This research seeks to determine whether consensus in a Supreme Court opinion makes for a more legitimate, long-standing, rule of law. Throughout the history of the United States, many Chief Justices have sought a unanimous majority on the assumption that a consensus in an opinion makes the rule of law contained within it more legitimate or having more longevity. The research proposal at hand will seek to investigate this fundamental assumption. This project hypothesizes that the greater consensus makes a more legitimate rule of law. Otherwise stated, a higher percentage of justices in the majority of an opinion will correlate to fewer subsequent negative citation. This project defines consensus as the percentage of justices that vote in the majority of an opinion. Legitimacy is defined as a legal precedent that is neither overturned nor distinguished, and is cited frequently in subsequent opinions. Each case that the Supreme Court has decided will be compiled, as will the number of justices in the majority of each opinion, and the respective number of negative and positive citations. The data will then be analysed, to determine whether a correlation exists between consensus and legitimacy, refuting or supporting the hypotheses.