Is the U.S. Supreme Court's Legitimacy Grounded in Performance Satisfaction and Ideology?

50 Pages Posted: 12 Aug 2013  

James L. Gibson

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Political Science

Michael Nelson

Pennsylvania State University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: 2013

Abstract

Bartels and Johnston have recently presented evidence suggesting that the legitimacy of the Supreme Court is grounded in the ideological preferences and perceptions of the American people. In addition, they offer experimental data purporting to show that dissatisfaction with a single Court decision substantially diminishes the institution’s legitimacy. These findings strongly break with earlier research on the Court’s institutional support, as the authors recognize. The theoretical implications of their findings are profound. If the authors are correct that legitimacy is strongly dependent upon satisfying the policy preferences and ideological predilections of the American people, the essence of legitimacy is fundamentally altered. Consequently, we re-investigate the relationships among ideology, performance satisfaction, and Court legitimacy, unearthing empirical findings that diverge markedly from theirs. We conclude with some thoughts about how the Court’s “countermajoritarian dilemma” can be reconceptualized and recalculated, once more drawing conclusions sharply at odds with those of Bartels and Johnston.

Keywords: U.S. Supreme Court legitimacy, countermajoritarianism, public opinion, diffuse support

JEL Classification: 026

Suggested Citation

Gibson, James L. and Nelson, Michael, Is the U.S. Supreme Court's Legitimacy Grounded in Performance Satisfaction and Ideology? (2013). APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper; American Political Science Association 2013 Annual Meeting. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2300515

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

Michael Nelson

Pennsylvania State University - Department of Political Science ( email )

University Park, State College, PA 16801
United States

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