70 Social Pressure on the Supreme Court

Based on Research by Solomon Asch, Ph.D., 1955; Donal Granberg and Brandon Bartels, 2005. Psychology Science Minute written by Juanita N. Baker, Ph.D..

Psychology Research is often applicable to other fields. For example, sociologist Donald Granberg and political scientist Brandon Bartels applied the research done by psychologist Solomon Asch on social pressure to examine how difficult it is to be a lone dissenter on the Supreme Court. They wanted to know if even esteemed Supreme Court Justices find it difficult to dissent when they stand alone.  Granberg and Bartels examined voting patterns of 4,178 Supreme Court decisions from 1953-2001. They found that the nine Justices most often voted unanimously, a remarkable, 35% of the time. There were 5-4 splits 21% of the time, 6-3 splits 20%, and 7-2 splits 14%.  Least frequently they voted 8-1 splits, only 10% of the time. During this period 29 Justices served and varied widely in voting as a lone dissenter.

What kind of judge does it take to go against such esteemed colleagues?  Evidently the stature of Justice William O. Douglas, who stood alone more than any other judge, 6% of the time.  When subject to social pressure, take courage from this study.   Model Justice Douglas’ example and stand up for what you think is right.


Asch, Solomon E. (1955). Opinions and social pressure.  Scientific American, 193, 5, 31-35.

Granberg, D. and Bartels, B. (2005), On Being a Lone Dissenter. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 35: 1849–1858. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2005.tb02198.x

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