In a sense, The Supreme Court and the American Elite, 1789-2008 is a history of the United States seen through the lens of the Supreme Court. The book's title asserts its thesis, and among elites national politicians rank at the top. Mr. Dooley got it right: the Supreme Court does follow the election returns - especially if the president is lucky enough to get several quick vacancies (like Warren Harding's four in his twenty-nine month presidency). By following the election returns, the Court functions as part of a national political regime and typically issues decisions that advance the constitutional visions of that regime. Thus at the height of the Warren Court, President Lyndon Johnson told historian William Leuchtenburg "that never before have the three independent branches been so productive."
To be sure, there are counter examples to the Court aiding the dominant regime. We all know that John Marshall was not advancing Thomas Jefferson's agenda. However, while Marshall may have lectured Jefferson in Marbury v. Madison, he never denied Jefferson anything the president wanted - except Jefferson's first-term vice president Aaron Burr's head in a noose. More recently, the New Deal was eviscerated, with ten statutes being held unconstitutional by a bare majority of the Court, in 1935 and 1936. But this was aberrational, and after the 1936 landslide election and the Court-packing plan, the Court never offered further resistance to the New Deal. Of course the rapid turn-over beginning with Willis Van Devanter's retirement did not hurt. There is an essential fact about elections. Whenever the same political party has won three consecutive presidential elections, that party has also placed a majority of justices on the Court. Elections and vacancies explain why the Court is staffed by men and women who for the most part are in tune with their times.