Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Pickerill, J. Mitchell

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Political Science


United States--Study and teaching; Political science; Law; Sociology


This study analyzes when and under what conditions the Supreme Court can produce lasting social change. By re-examine Gerald Rosenberg's theory and finding that the Court is too constitutionally constrained to produce change, I argue that the Supreme Court can establish lasting social change. Lasting social change is established through landmark rulings on substantive rights when those issues first have the time to percolate in the states and build the public support necessary to implement the Court's ruling. To test this theory, I analyze two landmark Court rulings. First, I examine the right to abortion in Roe v. Wade (1973) where the Supreme Court lead the constitutional debate, and second the right to same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) as a counterfactual, as the Supreme Court ruling followed the constitutional debate. These cases are analyzed in conjunction with public opinion trends to understand how state constitutional debate contributes to public approval of the right at issue. Based on the analysis, the Supreme Court can establish lasting social change when handing down landmark rulings after the constitutional and political debate has already occurred at the state level.


Advisors: J. Mitch Pickerill.||Committee members: Scot Schraufnagel; Artemus Ward.||Includes bibliographical references.


iii, 59 pages




Northern Illinois University

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