Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name



Political Science

First Advisor

Brad R. Roth


The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 was enacted amid much controversy and was considered by many observers to mark a major change in the direction of U.S. bankruptcy policy. The dissertation uses the law's passage as a vehicle to develop an explicit model of the integrated role of Congress, issue networks, and the courts in making policy. Following Baumgartner and Jones (1993), Sabatier (1988), and others, the dissertation tracks bankruptcy policymaking and implementation over a seventy-five year period to demonstrate that policy is made in three distinct venues: Congress; a policy community made up of lawyers, bankruptcy judges, and members of academia; and the courts. Agenda setting theory explains why policymaking authority shifts between traditionally understood venues like Congress to non-traditional ones like the courts and the policy community. The community monopolized bankruptcy policymaking from the 1930s until the mid-1990s. Its hold on policymaking was broken when pro-creditor forces successfully characterized proposed reforms as fitting within a broader congressional agenda of retrenchment in social welfare policy in favor of laws promoting particular notions of personal responsibility.

The dissertation identifies the key role of bankruptcy judges in the three-part structure: they make policy not only in their traditional juridical capacities, but also as active entrepreneurs and advocates for legislative reforms as part of the policy community. The inclusion of courts in the model places the dissertation squarely in the emerging area of interbranch scholarship. Moreover, it extends existing studies in that field through its application of agenda setting and policy implementation scholarship. The model suggests the differing policy image increases the likelihood that the new laws will not be faithfully implemented. The dissertation includes a proposal for testing its hypothesis.