Public Reverence for the United States Supreme Court: Is the Court Invincible?

62 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2012

See all articles by James L. Gibson

James L. Gibson

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Political Science

Date Written: July 15, 2012

Abstract

Social science knowledge about public attitudes toward the United States Supreme Court has accumulated over the last few decades to the point that a number of sound empirical propositions have emerged. This article reviews those findings and provides new data from a 2011 nationally representative survey to test various hypotheses about the willingness of citizens to extend legitimacy to the Supreme Court. The most important findings of this analysis are that the legitimacy of the Court is high, it is not dependent upon satisfaction with the Court’s decisions, and, as a consequence, the Court’s legitimacy has changed almost imperceptibly over the last few decades. Ironically, by being a sharply divided policy-making institution, the Court is able to please those of all ideological stripes at least some of the time, which may undermine policy dissatisfaction as a source of threat to the institution’s legitimacy. The Court is a majoritarian institution not in the sense that its decisions are necessarily in line with the policy preferences of the majority, but rather in the sense that it is dependent upon the willingness of most Americans to cede legitimacy to the Court, and therefore to accept policy decisions with which they disagree.

Keywords: court legitimacy, public opinion, accepting court decisions

JEL Classification: K40

Suggested Citation

Gibson, James L., Public Reverence for the United States Supreme Court: Is the Court Invincible? (July 15, 2012). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2107587 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2107587

James L. Gibson (Contact Author)

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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