Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Political Science

First Advisor

John P. McIver

Second Advisor

Vanessa A. Baird

Third Advisor

Kenneth Bickers

Fourth Advisor

Frank Colucci

Fifth Advisor

Scott A. Moss

Abstract

State supreme courts occasionally rely on the provisions of their own state constitutions to expand rights for their citizens beyond the protections that the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the U.S. Constitution to require. This practice is known as the New Judicial Federalism. State supreme courts have the prerogative to recognize more expansive rights under their state constitutions because the U.S. Constitution sets a floor and not a ceiling for the protection of individual rights. On the other hand, the U.S. Supreme Court has unmatched resources as well as unparalleled prestige, and most state supreme courts give considerable respect and deference to its interpretations of common or similar constitutional language.

The challenge for political scientists is to explain why some state supreme courts have chosen to expand rights and why other courts prefer to follow the example and interpretation of the U.S. Supreme Court. I hypothesize that state supreme courts are engaged in an ongoing dialogue about rights by considering the reasoning contained in sister state supreme court decisions, prior deciding court precedent, and changes in U.S. Supreme Court precedent, when deciding whether to expand rights under state constitutions. This dissertation examines the decisions of state supreme courts, as well as interviews with state supreme court justices, to examine why state supreme courts sometimes render rights expanding decisions, but more often follow the approach adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court in interpreting the U.S. Constitution

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