Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name



Department of Political Science

First Advisor

Professor Larry E. Moss


A case study of the politics of judicial reform in Detroit is used to analyze the politics of the contemporary court reform movement in relationship to the transition to black rule in American cities in the 1970s and 1980s. Questions addressed include the following: Were there political motives and/or consequences to judicial reform? Was there a connection between court reform and the politics of race in American cities? Has court reform been a kind of political struggle between insurgent and displaced elites in a transitory political structure? And, what are the implications of the politics of race and court reform in American cities for urban politics and for urban justice? Standard social science data-collection techniques are used: historical analysis, primary court, legal, and government documents, non-participant observation, intensive interviews, and systematic sampling of case files for 1978 and 1983, the first and fifth years of reform. Court reform in Detroit was championed by two different political groups representing two different policy orientations. This study concludes that official reform in Detroit is best explained as a political reaction by displaced elites to insurgent demands for reform by members of a previously subordinate political group and their allies. Over 90% of all legal cases in the United States begin and end at the state trial level. Court reform in the 1970s and 1980s has been a growth industry, especially in the states. Court reform is not a politically neutral process, but one which has profoundly political consequences. In a democratic society in which major political institutions are to exhibit some degree of responsiveness or accountability to the public, the consequences of political reform of a major institution like the courts merits considerable attention.