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October 4, 2007

Professor H.W. Perry’s book on the U.S. Supreme Court recognized as a classic with lasting impact

H.W. Perry Jr., an associate professor of law and government at The University of Texas at Austin, was honored recently with the Wadsworth Publishing Award in Political Science for his 1991 book, Deciding to Decide: Agenda Setting in the United States Supreme Court (Harvard University Press).

The award is given annually for a book or journal article, 10 years or older, that has made a lasting impression on the field of law and courts. Professor Perry received the award at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in Chicago on Aug. 31.

A specialist in constitutional and public law, Perry is also co-author of Civil Liberties and the Constitution (9th ed., forthcoming) and various articles. He is currently working on a study of decision-making in the U.S. Department of Justice. He came to Texas in 1994 after teaching for eight years at Harvard.

The award citation reads in part: “Perry pushed the boundaries of qualitative research on the Supreme Court, using interviews with clerks and sitting justices; the use of interviews with clerks has been more widely adopted since, but his data remain an impressive accomplishment. Perry skillfully blended in his analysis both strategic/ideological factors for granting certiorari with legal/ institutional factors, in ways that anticipated more recent developments in thinking about the Court. Still widely read and taught, his book generated, new propositions for testing and remains a touchstone citation for discussions of this central area of Supreme Court decision making.”

Perry’s book on the Supreme Court is still used widely in law schools and political science departments. Although the focus of the book is the agenda setting process of the court, and it has become a classic on certiorari, it is more broadly concerned about decision making generally at the Supreme Court.

Eschewing simplistic understandings of “law vs. politics” in the decision making behavior of justices, the book documents how and in what ways law and politics interact. At the time of its publication, justices rarely granted interviews let alone discussed internal decision making procedures of the Supreme Court. Perry was granted extraordinary access to the justices and the inner workings of the Court. The book has also been the subject of scholarly articles on its research methodology, including one prominent example “Interpretation and Validity Assessment in Qualitative Research: The Case of H. W. Perry’s Deciding to Decide” 19 Law & Soc. Inquiry 687 (1994).

“Perry’s book has had unprecedented influence, not just in academia, but also in the world of practice,” says Professor Ernest Young of UT Law, who clerked for the Supreme Court in the 1995-96 term. “It’s required reading for anyone seeking to get the Supreme Court to review a case, and most young lawyers preparing for a Supreme Court clerkship read it to understand the nature of the job they’ll be doing.” Professor Young also noted how unusual it is for Supreme Court justices and clerks to give anyone the sort of access that Professor Perry received. “It really says a lot about H.W.’s reputation for integrity,” Young said.

When published, the book won numerous awards including the Thomas J. Wilson Prize of the Board of Syndics of Harvard University Press and the C. Herman Pritchett Award of the Public Law Section of the American Political Science Association for the best book published on Law and Courts. The book is about to be published in Chinese, and that edition is expected to come out next year.

The book received several favorable comments and reviews at the time of publication including the following:

“This will undoubtedly rank as one of the truly path breaking volumes in law and judicial politics and is almost certain to chart important new directions in current and future scholarly research and development in this area,” wrote Lucius J. Barker of Stanford University and former president of the American Political Science Association. “The strength and significance of Perry’s work are that it is perhaps the most holistic and definitive attempt yet made to bring the study of law, courts, and judges into the mainstream of ongoing political science research. The genius of his volume is that this is what he sought to do, and he has done so brilliantly,” Barker wrote.

Related Links:

About H.W. Perry Jr.:

Harvard University Press, “Deciding to Decide: Agenda Setting in the United States Supreme Court”:

Press Contact: Kirston Fortune, Assistant Dean for Communications, (512) 471.7330 or