Legitimacy, Losing, But Accepting: A Test of Positivity Theory and the Effects of Judicial Symbols
62 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2014
Date Written: March 23, 2014
How is it that the U.S. Supreme Court 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 people to acquiesce to disagreeable court decisions. Using an experimental design and a nationally representative sample, we show that exposure to judicial symbols (1) strengthens the link between institutional support and acquiescence among those with relatively low prior awareness of the Supreme Court; (2) has differing effects depending upon levels of pre-existing institutional support; and (3) severs the link between disappointment with a disagreeable Court decision and willingness to challenge the ruling. Since symbols influence citizens in ways that reinforce the legitimacy of courts, the connection between institutional attitudes and acquiescence posited by Legitimacy Theory is both supported and explained.
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