Researching the court

Karin Dienst


Princeton NJ -- In fourth grade, Richard Just wrote a research report on the U.S. Supreme Court. His interest in the Supreme Court continued to grow, and this year the Princeton senior completed a comprehensive, 116-page study of the relationship between U.S. presidents and the appointment of justices.

The idea for the topic was spurred by the last election. "There was a lot of talk in the media about how the presidential election would determine the future of the Supreme Court, and I wondered if it was in fact possible for presidents to determine the ideological direction of the court through their appointments," said Just.

Working with his adviser, Professor Stanley Katz of the Woodrow Wilson School, Just refined his thesis to focus on the appointment of justices during the Reagan years. This administration, he argues, was highly successful at selecting justices that suited the ideology of the president.

"As I read more about the appointment process and talked with Professor Katz, it became clear that Reagan's approach to Supreme Court selection stood out among recent presidents -- both as the approach most concerned with ideological predictability and as the one that was, ultimately, most successful in determining the future direction of the court," said Just.

Just's thesis includes assessments of Supreme Court appointments that were considered "mistakes" by previous administrations. It also examines judicial records of the four Reagan appointees (Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and William Rehnquist, who was elevated to chief justice) that illustrate just how close to the predictions of the president and his aides they behaved. What remains to be seen is how well this historical evidence can help predict how President Bush might approach the nomination of potential justices.

Katz, who is an expert in constitutional law and a self-proclaimed "Supreme Court junkie," said Just's thesis was "particularly fun to work on." Katz explains that all the best Woodrow Wilson School theses "are fun to work on, since they relate directly to changing some part of the way the world actually works."

For Just, the senior thesis further strengthened his love of writing. This former editor-in-chief of The Daily Princetonian relished the opportunity to write an extensive piece. "The process that's required to write 100 pages on a single topic is -- both in terms of the ideas and in terms of the writing -- a serious challenge," he said. "But it was a challenge that I really enjoyed, and there's a real sense of accomplishment in knowing that I was able to do it."

Starting in September, Just will work at The American Prospect, a biweekly political magazine in Washington, D.C.


May 7, 2001
Vol. 90, No. 27
previous   archives   next


Senior thesis
Independent work caps Princeton experience
Delving into bioethics
Researching the court
Combining two interests
Analyzing theses topics

Minicourses provide 'continuing education'
Dale touched students lives
Faculty team serves up a slice of the universe

Communiversity 2001
PWB readers surveyed soon


By the numbers: Endowed professorships
Nassau Notes
Calendar of events

The Bulletin is published weekly during the academic year, except during University breaks and exam weeks, by the Office of Communications, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544. Permission is given to adapt, reprint or excerpt material from the Bulletin for use in other media.

Deadline. In general, the copy deadline for each issue is the Friday 10 days in advance of the Monday cover date. The deadline for the Bulletin that covers May 21-June 3 is Friday, May 11. A complete publication schedule is available at deadlines or by calling (609) 258-3601.

Subscriptions. The Bulletin is distributed free to faculty, staff and students. Others may subscribe to the Bulletin for $24 for the academic year (half price for current Princeton parents and people over 65). Send a check to Office of Communications, Stanhope Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544.

Editor: Ruth Stevens
Calendar editor: Carolyn Geller
Contributing writers: Karin Dienst, Jennifer Greenstein, Marilyn Marks, Caroline Moseley, Steven Schultz, Lauren Sun
Photographer: Denise Applewhite
Design: Mahlon Lovett, Laurel Masten Cantor
Web edition: Mahlon Lovett