Aaron J. Ley

University of Rhode Island
Political Science

129 Washburn Hall
Kingston, RI
ajley@uri.edu |  Visit Personal Website

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My research agenda examines the interplay of law and policy, particularly group legal mobilization in environmental policy arenas. I ask how newly emerged groups determine when and where to pursue their policy goals in an American system that provides a variety of institutional venues for pursuing policy goals. The answer to this question is important because it sheds light on the question of how disadvantaged and newly formed groups are able to achieve policy success even though they are outgunned politically and financially by other groups that are already well-established political players. So far I have published research finding that groups are strategic in how they select venues, yet are drawn to some venues as a consequence of broader environmental and institutional forces. My current research examines the legal mobilization of climate denialist groups, traces their existence to the broader conservative legal movement, and generates empirical data about the effect of their open records campaigns on the research activities of climate scientists.

Ley, Aaron J. 2014. “The Costs and Benefits of American Policy-Making Venues.” Law & Society Review 48 (1): 91-126.
Abstract: Many law and policy scholars consider judges inimical to good public policymaking, and the criticisms they level on the judiciary implicitly reflect some of the concerns raised by Alexander Bickel and other critics. Despite the charge by critics that judges are institutionally ill equipped to participate in the policy-making process and that legal processes are costly, there are reasons to believe otherwise. This article uses field interviews and three case studies of an environmental dispute in the Pacific Northwest to show that the judiciary can be an institutional venue that enhances public input, can be more inclusive than other venues, and produces positive-sum outcomes when other venues cannot. The findings also suggest that legislative and agency policymaking are just as contentious and costly as judicial policy-making processes
Ley, Aaron J., and Edward P. Weber. 2014. “Policy Change and Venue Choice: Field Burning in Idaho and Washington.” Society & Natural Resources 27 (6): 645-655.
Abstract: Grass seed farmers have burned their fields in Idaho and Washington State for decades. Field burning, however, creates small particulate matter air pollution, thus engendering a growing public backlash by the 1990s that manifested itself in new clean air advocacy groups. The new groups’ push for policy change eventually met with significant success in both cases. How did each set of advocates approach the challenge of policy change? More specifically, what kinds of policy venues did each group choose and why? This research uses the cases to explore and explain each clean air group’s choices vis-a`-vis hypotheses of venue choice. Three hypotheses are tested—Schattschneider’s (1960) ‘‘expanded scope of conflict’’ thesis, ACF’s (Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith 1999) contention that groups strategically apply their resources in order to increase the likelihood of achieving their primary goal(s), and Pralle’s (2003, 2010) thesis that internal group constraints deter groups from moving into new venues.
Ley, Aaron J., and Edward P. Weber. 2015. “The Adaptive Venue Shopping Framework: How Emergent Groups Choose Environmental Policymaking Venues.” Environmental Politics 24 (5): 703-722.
Abstract: Scholars have succeeded in producing several explanations for why groups choose to pursue their policymaking goals in different venues. We add to this literature by employing a multiple case study approach to field burning in the Pacific Northwest and producing an explanatory and synthetic framework that explains the choices these groups make. We find that emergent groups with a mission to clear the air of the pollutants associated with field burning, are choosing venues using a strategic assessment based on institutional context. The particular institutional context that matters involves three primary elements—the group’s mix of resources, opponents’ resource strengths, and the degree of venue accessibility, which is a combination of opponents’ degree of control over a venue and a venue’s image amiability or receptivity.
Ley, Aaron J. 2016. “Vested Interests, Venue Shopping, and Policy Stability: The Long Road to Improving Air Quality in the Willamette Valley.” Review of Policy Research 33 (5): 506-525.
Abstract: A lot of scholarly attention has focused on why groups choose to pursue their policy goals in one venue over another. This manuscript adds to the literature by testing a new theory of venue shopping, the Adaptive Venue Shopping Framework. This manuscript finds empirical support that groups choose venues by strategically assessing the institutional context which involves three primary elements: the group's mix of resources, their opponent's resource strengths, and the degree of venue accessibility, which is a combination of opponents degree of control over a venue and a venue's image amiability or receptivity. In addition to confirming these findings, this case study links the literature on venue shopping with recent scholarship about “vested interests” by demonstrating how a powerful agricultural group came to dominate in a legislative venue, how it protected its policy victories from reversal, and how it kept policymaking from shifting into alternative venues, thus leading to long-term policy stability. Furthermore, it demonstrates how newly emerged groups can achieve policy success against stronger opponents by threatening to seek their policy goals in alternative institutions.

Substantive Focus:
Law and Policy PRIMARY
Environmental Policy SECONDARY

Theoretical Focus:
Policy History
Policy Process Theory PRIMARY
Agenda-Setting, Adoption, and Implementation SECONDARY