Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Pickerill, J. Mitchell

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Political Science


This dissertation expands the literature on law, courts, and social change. The Supreme Court increasingly matters in American political life when those across the political spectrum look at the Court for relief from policies they oppose and as another venue for advancing their own policy agendas. This dissertation expands the volume of case studies that research the ability of Courts to make major political and social change to include the topic of firearms in the wake of the Supreme Court’s controversial and divided opinions in D.C. v Heller (2008) and McDonald v Chicago (2010). These decisions interpreted the Second Amendment as an individual right and protected it against state encroachment, resulting in over a thousand cases litigated in state and federal courts. But how successful have activists been in expanding the right to keep and bear arms? The test of how much political and social change has been made is primarily done through a test of Gerald Rosenberg’s framework from his seminal work, The Hollow Hope: Can Courts Bring About Social Change, but it also utilizes Daniel Elazar’s Political Culture Theory to explain state level variations in political and social change. The findings indicate that that while courts are not powerless institutions, that reformers will not have success unless supported by the public and the elected branches, and most specifically, that pre-existing state culture is a determining factor in the amount of change courts make.


468 pages




Northern Illinois University

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Available for download on Tuesday, December 31, 2024