American University
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Social science and the law: How the Supreme Court has used social science in deciding the important women's issues of abortion and sex discrimination

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posted on 2023-09-06, 03:00 authored by Rosemary J. Erickson

The present study focuses on how social science research has contributed to the resolution of women's issues in the Supreme Court over the past twenty years. The 35 cases the Supreme Court decided between 1972 and 1992 on abortion and sex discrimination were selected for study, along with the 51 lower court cases, for a total of 86 cases. The study analyzes existing data through measuring the frequency of social science citations in the Court's opinion and relating them to one another and other study variables. The model describes the use of social science data and explains the circumstances under which it was used. Results reveal that prior cases are given far greater weight than social science data, but social science was cited in over half of the cases. The Supreme Court's use of social science has increased over time, though not greatly, and more in abortion cases than in sex discrimination cases. The Justices did not necessarily use social science even when it supported their position and had previously cited in similar cases. Usage varies by Justice, and whether or not the Justice is liberal or conservative. Usage also varies by the type of case, with more cases of sex discrimination citing social science, while abortion cases have relatively more citations. The use of data by the Supreme Court was not dependent on whether the lower courts cited social science. There was no shortage of social science data from the lower courts or the briefs. The study contributes both to science and to the judiciary, by helping scientists direct their efforts toward the judiciary when studying issues of possible import to the judiciary and aiding the judiciary by showing how social science has been, and can be, used effectively.







Ph.D. American University 1994.


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