Degree Year


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Michael Parkin
Ronald Kahn


Supreme Court, Supreme Court decision-making, Fundamental attribution error, Political psychology, Attitudinal model, Rational choice model


It is well demonstrated that extra-legal factors can drive judicial decision-making on the United States Supreme Court. Political psychologists have also demonstrated that political actors fall victim to certain biases, particularly in the form of the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE), which limits the information they consider when making political decisions. The FAE is the tendency to attribute the root causes of bad actions to dispositions of actors an individuals dislikes, while blaming situational circumstances for people an individual likes.

This is the first study exploring the presence of the FAE in Supreme Court decision-making. Using content analytic techniques, this paper analyzes the frequency of FAE-type language in Supreme Court opinions during the Rehnquist and Roberts court eras. The findings suggest that justices reference the situations of winning parties and the disposition of losing parties in opinions, and that a combination of conscious and subconscious drivers increase the frequency of such references.