The Supreme Court is an important policy-making institution. In criminal justice, for example, the high court issues decisions affecting institutions, actors, and processes throughout the justice system, from police investigations through corrections and parole. The Court's policy decisions affecting criminal justice are produced by the votes of the nine justices who select, hear, decide, and issue opinions in cases. It is widely recognized, and probably axiomatic, that the Supreme Court's decision-making patterns are determined by the Court's membership at any given moment in history. When five or more justices support a specific outcome in a case, they can form a majority to produce a decision that shapes constitutional law and judicial policy making. When one or more members of that majority retires or dies, the potential exists for the Court's decisions to move in a new direction on that issue if new appointees possess different attitudes, values, or judicial philosophies than those possessed by their predecessors. Because each justice's voting behavior is shaped by his or her attitudes and values, the case outcomes and judicial policies produced by the Supreme Court are a product of the mix of attitudes and values represented among the justices at the moment a particular issue is presented to the Court. When the mix of justices changes, so, too, can the constitutional rules that shape policy issues. In criminal justice, such rules affect police practices, conditions of confinement in jails and prisons, and other aspects of the criminal justice system.
Smith, Christopher E.
"The Impact of New Justices: The U.S. Supreme Court and Criminal Justice Policy,"
Akron Law Review: Vol. 30
, Article 3.
Available at: http://ideaexchange.uakron.edu/akronlawreview/vol30/iss1/3