The Effect of Ideological Stratification on the Supreme Court’s Stance on Tribal Sovereignty

How does the ideological makeup of a Supreme Court opinion change the presence of biases towards tribal sovereignty? This study analyzes the degree to which the political ideologies of Supreme Court justices, and their decisions regarding tribal jurisdiction, impact the dialogue concerning indigenous sovereignty since the Burger Court. The products of this study will fill a gap in the literature regarding long-term analysis of the causes of the Court’s changes towards tribal sovereignty. My hypothesis posits that in a decision which expands tribal jurisdiction, the greater the variation in the ideology of the justices signing the majority opinion, the more anti-tribal sovereignty bias within the opinion. In a case which narrows tribal jurisdiction, the less variation in ideology of the justices signing the majority opinion, the more anti-tribal sovereignty bias within the opinion.

The unit of analysis for this study is all decisions handed down by the Court concerning tribal jurisdiction between 1969 and 2018. The dependent variable is conceptions of tribal sovereignty – or whether tribal nations are viewed as autonomous as their original treaties assured. This is measured through linguistic analysis based on implicit biases concerning conceptions of indigenous peoples. My dependent variable is a typology of words and phrases related to implicit biases of indigenous peoples and will be applied to my independent variable through Linguistic Inquiry Word Count software available to me through the Social Science Research Methods Center (SSRMC). This will give a quantified description of the frequency of biases within the Supreme Court’s dialogue concerning indigenous sovereignty. The independent variable is the ideological stratification between the justices signing a majority opinion between 1969 and 2018. This variable is measured based on a great weight of research readily available regarding the ideological beliefs of members of the Court. The justices across the three Courts will be empirically weighed in regards to conservatism and liberalism. These weights will then be applied to the unit of analysis, the opinions, and will produce a measurement of the ideological stratification present in each opinion.

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