LAPA Seminar

Nathaniel Persily, LAPA Fellow; Columbia Law School

"The Health Care Case in the Public Mind: How the Supreme Court Shapes Public Opinion of Itself and the Laws it Considers"

February 11, 2013, 4:30-6 PM, Kerstetter Room, Marx Hall

Please join us for a LAPA Seminar with Nathaniel Persily, 2012-2013 LAPA Fellow, the Charles Keller Beekman Professor of Law and Political Science,and the Director of the Center for Law and Politics at Columbia Law School, who will present "The Health Care Case in the Public Mind: How the Supreme Court Shapes Public Opinion of Itself and the Laws it Considers." His commentator is Jonathan Kastellec, Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics at Princeton.

As always, the LAPA format asks that seminar participants familiarize themselves with the paper in advance. The commentator will open the session by summarizing the main themes in the paper and presenting some topics for discussion. The author then has the right of first response before we open to the floor for questions. The seminar will end with a brief reception in the Kerstetter Room, giving everyone a chance to mingle and meet.

From Professor Persily:"The Supreme Court's decision in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius upholding most of the Affordable Care Act achieved a level of media coverage and public salience reached by very few Supreme Court decisions. The case presented a unique test for larger theories about the role of the Supreme Court as an agenda-setter for public opinion. The data suggest that the Court's decision had a small but noticeable impact on attitudes toward the Court and the ACA. Although the Court found itself with historically low approval ratings before the decision, it dropped further soon after the opinion's release. Moreover, the structure of opinion toward the Court became more polarized along partisan lines. Less obvious, however, might be the effect of the decision on attitudes toward the ACA. The Court's perceived stamp of approval for the ACA led some Americans to switch their minds about it, leading to a small increase in approval of the law following the decision. Public opinion effects, such as these, toward the Court and the law it considered are unprecedented."

Nathaniel Persilyis the Charles Keller Beekman Professor of Law and Political Science and the Director of the Center for Law and Politics at Columbia Law School. Professor Persily's scholarship focuses on American election law or what is sometimes called the "law of democracy," which addresses issues such as voting rights, political parties, campaign finance, and redistricting. Professor Persily also created, a website that serves as a repository for nonpartisan congressional redistricting plans for all 50 states. The website the first ever to present a nonpartisan redistricting plan for the entire U.S. House of Representatives contains maps drawn by students in his course, "Redistricting and Gerrymandering." He has also served as a court appointed expert on legislative redistricting in several states and published numerous articles on voting rights issues. His coedited book, Public Opinion and Constitutional Controversy (Oxford Press, 2008), examines the effects of court decisions on American public opinion. In addition, along with Stephen Ansolabehere, he designed the "Constitutional Attitudes Survey," a national public opinion survey executed in both 2009 and 2010. The survey (available at includes an array of questions concerning attitudes toward the Supreme Court, constitutional interpretation, and specific constitutional controversies. Professor Persily earned his J.D. from Stanford and received his Ph.D. in political science from U.C. Berkeley. Before joining the Columbia Law faculty he taught at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Jonathan Kastellec is an assistant professor in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. His main research area is judicial politics, with broad interest in the study of American politics. Kastellec's current research analyzes the dynamics of collegial decision making on three-judge panels of the U.S. Courts of Appeals, with a particular focus on how the judicial hierarchy interacts with collegiality to influence individual judicial voting. He also has research interests in political methodology and formal theory, and has done research on congressional elections, public opinion and Supreme Court nominations. Along with Jeff Lax and Justin Phillips, Kastellec is working on a series of papers that investigates the relationship between public opinion and senatorial roll call voting on Supreme Court nominees.