Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2019

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Political Science

First Advisor

John Griffin

Second Advisor

Jennifer Fitzgerald

Third Advisor

Yaffa Truelove


In the United States, public opinion on gay rights has not always been favorable to gay Americans. Recently, this trend has been challenged and public opinion in support of gay rights has been growing. There is reason to believe that both the legislative and executive branches of government have responded to this increase accordingly, but what about the judicial branch? In this paper, I look at how public opinion on gay rights, specifically gay marriage, affects how individual state supreme court justices vote on gay rights cases, between the years 1981 and 2004. Additionally, I examine how the method of selection for justices impacts their responsivity to the increase in support for gay marriage. Then I view the effect of public retention elections on how justices respond to public opinion. The results indicate that justices are more likely to vote in favor of gay rights, as public opinion increases, especially for justices facing partisan elections. This adds to the greater narrative of the role of the judiciary and how public opinion affects governance.