By Anna Harvey
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Extra resources for A Mere Machine: The Supreme Court, Congress, and American Democracy
At least for this population of cases, the Roberts Court was not the ultra-conservative court it had been expected to be. And it was not evidently less deferential to elected branch preferences than had been previous courts. These ﬁndings would seem to suggest that the Supreme Court of the United States is not the exemplar of judicial independence it has been reputed to be. To the extent that this court is the “envy of the world,” in the words of former Justice O’Connor, it should perhaps serve as an example of the merits of a democratically accountable court, one that is incentivized to defer to the majoritarian elected branches.
They then have dismissed similar provisions found in other constitutions, assuming that the judges operating under these constitutions are likewise free to decide cases independently of the policymaking branches. High levels of rights protections have been attributed to what were thought to be independent courts, when those courts were perhaps in fact accountable, deferential courts. If it turns out to be the case that it is in fact accountable courts that increase rights protections, rather than independent courts, we should perhaps not be too surprised.
If this is the case, then the correlations between these more fundamental socioeconomic forces, public opinion, and elected branch preferences might result in spurious associations between both public opinion and elected branch preferences and the Court’s judgments. These possible alternative explanations are hard to square with the speciﬁcity of the Court’s deference. The justices appear to defer only to the preferences of majorities in the House of Representatives, not to those of Senate majorities or the president.