Lee Epstein
Lee Epsteing Ethan A.H. Shepley Distinguished University Professor
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Published in 1993. Journal of Law and Politics. (University of Virginia School of Law) 9 (4): 639-717. (Symposium.)

Lee Epstein


To most Americans, the term “interest groups” conjures up images of political action committees contributing to congressional campaigns, powerful interreges testifying at agency hearings, or lobbyists lining the halls of legislatures.  In short, the majority of citizens, not to mention social scientist and legal scholars, ten to associate interest groups with the activities of the “political” branches of government: the executive and legislative branches. 

It should come as no surprise, however, that organized interest often resort to the third branch of government, the judiciary, to achieve their objectives.  While some analysts continue to view the judicial decision-making process as insulated from the political pressure experienced in elected institutions, this is no longer an apt description.  Five decades of research indicate that political pressure from public opinion, partisan affiliation, and interest groups, can affect the decisions promulgated by judicial bodies.

The central purpose of this article is to examine interest group litigation during the 1986-1990 Terms of the Rehnquist Court.  More specifically, this article considers five dimensions of organization involvement in the Court’s decision-making process: (1) the frequency of interest group participation; (2) the goals of organizations resorting to the courts; (3) the kinds of interest groups litigating; (4) the paramount issues articulated; and (5) the efficacy of group litigation efforts.  To fully appreciate the patterns demonstrated during the Rehnquist Court era, it is critical to trace the evolution of interest group involvement with the Court.  To this end, the article has seven parts.  Part II outlines the development of the field of study no known as “interest group litigation.”  Parts III through VII consider the five dimensions of participation; in particular, I present the finding of past research and update the analysis with data focusing on the Rehnquist Court, which has received limited scholarly attention.  The final section summarizes the results of the analysis and discusses their implications.

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