Challenges to the Impartiality of State Supreme Courts: Legitimacy Theory and 'New-Style' Judicial Campaigns
James L. Gibson
Washington University in Saint Louis - Department of Political Science
American Political Science Review, Forthcoming
Institutional legitimacy is perhaps the most important political capital courts possess. Many believe, however, that the legitimacy of elected state courts is being threatened by the rise of politicized judicial election campaigns and the breakdown of judicial impartiality. Three features of such campaigns, the argument goes, are dangerous to the perceived impartiality of courts: campaign contributions, attack ads, and policy pronouncements by candidates for judicial office. By means of an experimental vignette embedded in a representative survey, I investigate whether these factors in fact compromise the legitimacy of courts. The survey data indicate that campaign contributions and attack ads do indeed lead to a diminution of legitimacy, in courts just as in legislatures. However, policy pronouncements, even those promising to make decisions in certain ways, have no impact whatsoever on the legitimacy of courts and judges. These results are strongly reinforced by the experiment's ability to compare the effects of these campaign factors across institutions (a state Supreme Court and a state legislature). Thus, this analysis demonstrates that legitimacy is not obdurate and that campaign activity can indeed deplete the reservoir of goodwill courts typically enjoy, even if the culprit is not the free-speech rights the U.S. Supreme Court announced in 2002.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 48
Keywords: State Judicial Elections, Institutional Legitimacy, Campaigning, Public Opinion
JEL Classification: K40
Date posted: June 24, 2007
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