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The Network of Hidden Plaintiffs in U.S. Supreme Court Litigation

Sample Bipartite Network of Advocates (colored circles) and cases (grey squares)
Sample Bipartite Network of Advocates (colored circles) and cases (grey squares)

Partially supported by a NULab Seedling Grant.

In 1992, after losing his bid for Texas’ 18th Congressional District, possibly due to safe racial districts, Edward Blum embarked on a battle against racial gerrymandering. After gathering volunteers, Blum successfully sued the state of Texas in what became the landmark case Bush v. Vera (1996). This was the beginning of a long fight to dismantle the framework of affirmative action, crafting suits such as Shelby v. Holder (2012), Fisher v. UT Texas (2016), and most recently SFFA v. Harvard (2022). 

In federal litigation, the parties to the case, their attorneys, and amicus filers are the most visible actors, in addition to the justices. However, hidden from plain view is another group of important actors who are neither litigants, nor attorneys, and cannot be squared as interest groups either. Hidden plaintiffs are the individuals or groups who for personal or professional reasons have an interest in the crafting policy through the courts. To that effect they directly or indirectly sponsor litigation through funding, legal expertise, or access to information, exerting a strong but overlooked influence over the Supreme Court’s docket. To date, there is little in the form of systematic research of these actors. Prof. Abi-Hassan undertakes the first study of these hidden plaintiffs, and examine their motivations, abilities, and successful strategies, and with it their ability to shape public policy. Making use of an extensive database that combines all writ of certiorari petitions (original), Supreme Court cases, and the Amicus Curiae Network, it identifies key individuals behind landmark US litigation. The project connects these actors to the network of amicus organizations, to investigate their role in successfully shaping public policy through Supreme Court litigation.

Principal Investigator

Sahar Abi-Hassan, Faculty, Mills College, Lokey School of Business and Public Policy

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