Judicial Symbols and the Link Between Legitimacy and Acquiescence

70 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 16 Aug 2011

See all articles by Ben Woodson

Ben Woodson

State University of New York (SUNY), Stony Brook

Milton Lodge

State University of New York (SUNY) - Department of Political Science

James L. Gibson

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Political Science

Date Written: 2011

Abstract

Abstract will be provided by author.How is it that the United State Supreme Court, perhaps the least majoritarian of all American political institutions, is capable of getting most citizens to accept rulings with which they disagree? This analysis addresses the role of the symbols of judicial authority and legitimacy – the robe, the gavel, the cathedral-like court building – in contributing to this willingness of ordinary citizens to acquiesce to disagreeable court decisions. We show using an experimental design that judicial symbols are important in establishing the link between institutional legitimacy and acceptance. Our analysis indicates that for some people institutional legitimacy is automatically activated and will consistently affect acceptance of the Court’s decision. For others, the legitimacy/acceptance link is conditional upon the presence of judicial symbols. For these people, without the presence of judicial symbols, increased legitimacy does not lead to increased acceptance of an unwelcomed court decision.

We understand these empirical findings with the assistance of three bodies of theory: Legitimacy Theory, Positivity Theory, and the Theory of Motivated Political Reasoning. The Theory of Motivated Political Reasoning explains how non-conscious stimuli such as background symbols can affect the reasoning of ordinary citizens, providing the micro-level underpinning for the asymmetrical effects of exposure to the judiciary that is addressed by Positivity Theory. Because symbols influence citizens, and influence them in ways that reinforce the legitimacy of courts, the connection between institutional attitudes and acquiescence posited by Legitimacy Theory is both supported and explained.

Keywords: Judicial Symbols, framing, Supreme Court, Legitimacy, Acquiescence

Suggested Citation

Woodson, Ben and Lodge, Milton and Gibson, James L., Judicial Symbols and the Link Between Legitimacy and Acquiescence (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1902275

Ben Woodson (Contact Author)

State University of New York (SUNY), Stony Brook ( email )

Health Science Center
Stony Brook, NY 11794

Milton Lodge

State University of New York (SUNY) - Department of Political Science ( email )

Stony Brook, 11794-4392
United States

James L. Gibson

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Political Science ( email )

One Brookings Drive
One Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

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