Neutral Principles, Motivated Cognition, and Some Problems for Constitutional Law
Vol. 125 No. 1 Why is the “neutrality” of Supreme Court decisionmaking a matter of persistent political disagreement? What should be done to mitigate such conflict? Once the predominant focus of constitutional law scholarship, efforts to answer these questions are now widely viewed as evincing misunderstandings of what can be coherently demanded of theory and realistically expected of judges. This Foreword attributes the Court’s “neutrality crisis” to a very different form of misunderstanding. The study of motivated reasoning (in particular, cultural cognition) shows that individuals are predisposed to fit their perceptions of policy-relevant facts to their group commitments. In the course of public deliberations, these facts become suffused with antagonistic meanings that transform utilitarian policymaking into occasions for symbolic status competition. These same dynamics, this Foreword argues, make constitutional decisionmaking the focus of status competition among groups whose members are unconsciously motivated to fit perceptions of the Court’s decisions to their values.