The Legitimacy of the US Supreme Court: Conventional Wisdoms and Recent Challenges Thereto

Posted: 5 Nov 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: November 2014

Abstract

Research on the legitimacy of the US Supreme Court has blossomed of late, with scholars investigating many different hypotheses derived from legitimacy theory. As the theory has been pushed, a number of new controversies have emerged. Here, we identify four such debates: (a) whether the Court's legitimacy rests on satisfaction with its performance, (b) whether support for the Supreme Court reflects the polarization of politics in the contemporary United States, (c) whether the Court's legitimacy requires belief in the “myth of legality”, and (d) whether judicial decisions can change public opinion. Our analysis of these issues generally concludes that the Supreme Court's legitimacy is reasonably secure, in part because individual rulings have little impact on support for the institution, in part because the Court has access to powerful and influential symbols of judicial authority, and in part because the current Supreme Court issues roughly equal numbers of conservative and liberal decisions.

Suggested Citation

Gibson, James L. and Nelson, Michael, The Legitimacy of the US Supreme Court: Conventional Wisdoms and Recent Challenges Thereto (November 2014). Annual Review of Law and Social Science, Vol. 10, pp. 201-219, 2014. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2519024 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev-lawsocsci-110413-030546

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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