(The Program uses Twitter for automatic news updates. Follow us @politicsandlaw.)


      One current student (Qian Wang) and one former student (Carlos Mejia ’08) attended the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association in Toronto, Ontario, in September 2009.  Both students, working with Professor Dean Lacy, submitted their research to the American Political Science Association, which invited them to attend to the meeting.   


      Carlos Mejia and Dean Lacy presented “Undoing the Initiative: When Are Ballot Measures Challenged in Court, and When Do Judges Overturn Them?”  They compiled a data set of the 417 initiatives passed by popular vote in 23 states since the 1960s.  About one third of the ballot initiatives had challenges in the courts, and over half of the challenges ended in the courts striking down or amending the initiative. They find that the margin of passage of an initiative or referendum has a significant effect on whether it is challenged in court. Once a ballot measure is challenged, judges who are elected or appointed but with possibility of recall are likely to uphold the ballot measure while judges who are appointed without possibility of recall are likely to strike down or amend the measure.  Initiatives containing multiple issues are surprisingly less likely to be challenged in court than initiatives containing only one issue.  The substantive issue area addressed by an initiative has little effect on whether it is challenged or struck down by the courts.  Their results imply that judges do pay attention to public opinion via the vote margin of an initiative’s passage, and the mere threat of a recall election makes appointed judges act like elected judges, while judges appointed for life without possibility of popular recall are more likely to overturn initiatives.



      Dean Lacy and Qian (Sisy) Wang presented “Public Knowledge of the Law on Hot-Button Social Issues.”  During the 2004 presidential campaign, between 68 and 76 percent of respondents to a nationwide survey correctly identified their state’s laws on same-sex marriage, abortion, and the sale of assault weapons.  These numbers are higher than the percentages of Americans who know which party has a majority of seats in the House, the percentage vote required in Congress go override a president’s veto, or which branch of government has the job of deciding whether a law is constitutional.  Individuals’ knowledge of the law on hot-button social issues is better explained by a new measure of self-assessed knowledge of an issue than by a widely used measure of general political knowledge.  When people are wrong about the law, they usually err by assuming the law is on their side of the issue rather than against them.


Copyright 2009: Trustees of Dartmouth College.