My name is Jessica Schoenherr and I received my Ph.D. in Political Science from Michigan State University. I study American politics and research methods, with a substantive focus on the United States Supreme Court. In the Fall of 2020, I will be joining the Department of Political Science at the University of South Carolina as an Assistant Professor of Public Law.
My research broadly seeks to identify and document the nature of attorneys’ influence over Supreme Court justices and the law. Decades of research on the Court begins with the implicit assumption that the justices, and the justices alone, drive legal change, because they are the ones who write the opinions. My work suggests this focus on judicial behavior ignores the role attorneys play in the decision-making process. The justices do not decide cases in a vacuum, but rather are constrained by an adversarial legal system in which the attorneys, not the justices, lay the legal groundwork and offer explanations of what the law says.
My dissertation, Attorneys, Merits Briefs and U.S. Supreme Court Decision Making, examines how attorneys use written legal arguments to appeal to Supreme Court justices. In it, I suggest that skilled attorneys are better than novices at understanding how to strategically build a legal argument that appeals to the justices’ preferences, both legal and political. To conduct my analyses, I use data from an original dataset that I developed using a combination of hand-coding and machine learning techniques.
Outside of my dissertation work, I am also interested in Supreme Court confirmation hearings and am working on several projects about attorney strategies and skills. Summaries of my working papers are available on my Research page.
When not working hard in the name of science, I enjoy watching hockey and running long distances for no reason. I am an avid Detroit Red Wings fan and am confident our new general manager will return the team to its former glory. Running is my daily sanity check and also a wonderful way to see the world. I completed the Detroit Marathon in 2013 and try to run at least one half marathon every year. I also spend a lot of time with my programming nerd husband, Ezra, and our dogs, Emma and Jack, who are my most faithful research assistants.