Change in Institutional Support for the U.S. Supreme Court: Is the Court’s Legitimacy Imperiled by the Decisions it Makes?

37 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2014

See all articles by James L. Gibson

James L. Gibson

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Political Science

Michael Nelson

Pennsylvania State University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: July 15, 2014

Abstract

Political pundits and scholars alike have recently noticed that public judgments of how well the U.S. Supreme Court is doing its job have plummeted. Yet, the meaning of this drop for the larger legitimacy of the Court is not as clear as the poll data themselves. Some believe that dissatisfaction with the Court’s rulings threatens the institution’s legitimacy. Conventional Legitimacy Theory, on the other hand, posits a "reservoir of goodwill" through which the translation of dissatisfaction into lowered legitimacy is blocked. Positivity Theory, with its focus on the legitimizing role of the symbols of judicial authority, provides at least a partial explanation of how legitimacy is maintained in the face of rising disappointment in the Court’s rulings. Here, we focus specifically on the relationship between specific and diffuse support and the role judicial symbols play in undermining that connection, concluding that the Court’s legitimacy is more secure than many imagine.

Suggested Citation

Gibson, James L. and Nelson, Michael, Change in Institutional Support for the U.S. Supreme Court: Is the Court’s Legitimacy Imperiled by the Decisions it Makes? (July 15, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2466422 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2466422

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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