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Title: U.S. Attorneys and the President’s Judicial Agenda
Authors: Mattioli, Lauren
Advisors: Cameron, Charles M
Contributors: Politics Department
Subjects: Political science
Issue Date: 2020
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: The returns to delegation by the American president to executive branch subordinates animates the study of bureaucratic politics. Scholars of the judiciary labor over whether the “least dangerous branch” can be independent when it is wholly reliant on the elected branches for its existence. This dissertation faces both concerns by studying the executive branch actors tasked with engaging the federal courts: presidentially appointed U.S. Attorneys. I ask three related questions, the answers to which illuminate both sides of the executive-judicial relationship. First, what motivates the President to attempt to influence the judiciary? Second, who does the President select to serve as U.S. Attorney? Finally, can the President actually affect the types of cases filed in federal court through his appointment power? The dissertation offers compelling evidence that the canonical principal-agent framework, which has provided the theoretical scaffolding for many studies of the administrative state in the post-war period, also explains the executive branch’s impact on the judiciary. The chief theoretical contribution of this project is the concept of a judicial policy agenda, a set of presidential policy goals which require realization on a case-by-case basis. This notion offers an organizing vocabulary for the actions presidents take to influence judicial outcomes. I analyzed Department of Justice records and presidential rhetoric to identify the annual goals of each president from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump. Empirical demonstration that presidents exercise control over the federal docket through their appointees is established by synthesizing several sources of data. Data on millions of criminal court cases filed from 1970 to 2017 are complemented with a novel data set containing the details of appointment for U.S. Attorneys in the same years. I use a time-series cross-sectional analysis to establish whether changes in government advocates affect the types and quantity of cases filed in federal court. The results show that presidential appointment of U.S. Attorneys has a significant impact on case filings. The questions concerning inter-institutional relationships confronted by this dissertation are both timeless and topical. My research brings new theory and evidence to bear on questions which have consumed academics and observers of democracy for decades.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Politics

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