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Ph.D. Student Abbie Saulsbury Researches U.S. Supreme Court with Support from the Coleman-Miller-Gorman Fellowship

Doctoral student Abbie Saulsbury became fascinated with the sheer power the U.S. Supreme Court holds and its ability to shape the law and history when she was an undergraduate in political science at East Tennessee State University. Since joining the program at UK, Saulsbury has continued her focus on the Supreme Court, devoting particular attention to determinants of justice voting.

The summer following her first year of the Ph.D. program, Saulsbury worked as a research assistant for Justin Wedeking and Michael Zilis. In that role, she gathered data on and coded thousands of news sources that cover the Supreme Court. Her work contributed to an ongoing project by Zilis and Wedeking examining new media coverage of the Supreme Court. Working as a research assistant on such an important project proved valuable both in exposure to media coverage of the court and in the opportunity to contribute her skills on a grant-funded project.

In addition to working as a research assistant, thanks to funds from alumni Ken and Mary Sue Coleman, Chris and Vicki Gorman and Penny Miller, Saulsbury made significant strides in her own research agenda. One of her projects included a working paper co-authored with Justin Wedeking. In this paper, the two seek to answer the question of how a crisis impacts  Supreme Court voting. Throughout the summer, Saulsbury spent her time collecting and merging data sources to construct a dataset of Supreme Court voting during crisis periods. Additional time was spent revising the paper and analyzing the results garnered from the data. The paper emphasizes that the justices on the Supreme Court have the ability, through their votes, to influence society, and that the Supreme Court is a vastly important political institution during crisis periods. The results obtained in this paper speak to a largely ignored body of work on the intersection of judicial politics and crisis events.

Furthermore, Saulsbury completed work on a paper with Colin Glennon, her former undergraduate adviser. The paper examines Supreme Court voting with a particular emphasis on how issue areas affect ideological trends on the court. She and Glennon find that the issue area of due process sees justices as more likely to vote against their ideological preferences. Ultimately, they attempt to tell a broader theoretical story of how justices reconcile their preferences and the host of factors justices consider and weigh in casting a vote.

While Saulsbury’s start to graduate school was tumultuous due to her entrance amid the ongoing pandemic, she has found the faculty and staff at UK to be supportive and helpful. The Department of Political Science at UK shares a collaborative spirit both in research and teaching. Wedeking and Zilis have assisted Saulsbury in her growth as a judicial scholar and overall development as a graduate student. Additionally, Saulsbury has enjoyed serving as a teaching assistant for Stephen Voss and Zilis