Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Mark S. Hurwitz

Second Advisor

Dr. Denise Keele

Third Advisor

Dr. John Clark

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Denise Scheberle


Clean Water Act, environmental law, RCRA, Clean Air Act, court of appeals, judicial behavior


This dissertation tests the legal model of judicial behavior and uses party capability, or litigant resource, theory to explain litigant success in the Court of Appeals for environmental cases and help understand the role litigant type and resources play. Environmental law has received little attention in judicial politics, and I examine which judicial behavior model explains case outcomes. The legal model argues case characteristics best explain judicial outcomes, whereas litigant resource theory posits judicial a litigant’s resources, or lack thereof, explain outcomes.

Galanter’s (1974) party capability theory focuses on advantages repeat players, the “haves,” possess and how these advantages enable them to more often prevail over one-shot, “have not” litigants. This theory is tested using a typology of litigant types including individuals, businesses, state and local governments, and other groups, such as nonprofit organizations. Songer and Sheehan (1992) and Wheeler (1987) find that litigant resources have an effect on success before the Court of Appeals. This has not yet been analyzed exclusively with environmental cases, so I show how resources and statutory provisions matter in this arena.

I examine five of the most litigated environmental statutes: the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act. Data for this analysis includes cases in Westlaw and Lexis Nexis from 1994–2008 in which these statutes were the primary ones under dispute.

Litigant resources theory most persuasively explained litigant success and support Galanter’s argument that repeat players and litigants with the most resources will be successful. The legal model is supported by evidence that specific provisions of the environmental statutes directly influence case outcomes and this varies by statute. There is still much research to be done in this understudied area at the intersection of judicial and environmental politics, but this dissertation improves the literature considerably by explaining what determines case outcomes in the Court of Appeals for these statutes and how the environmental statutes are interpreted by the court system.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access