Supreme Court Legitimacy: A Turn to Constitutional Practice
76 Pages Posted: 16 Sep 2022
Date Written: May 14, 2022
Commentators offer the Justices consistent—if unsolicited—advice: tend to the Supreme Court’s institutional legitimacy. However, to say this—without saying more—is to say very little. Of course, constitutional theorists already wrestle with the meaning of legitimacy—its contours, its complexity, and its influence on the Justices. Political scientists debate the relationship between institutional concerns and judicial behavior. At the same time, previous scholars largely ignore issues of constitutional practice. This is a mistake. In this Article, I take up this neglected topic. To that end, I detail how the individual Justice might work to bolster the Court’s legitimacy in concrete cases. Part of the answer turns on legal craft—identifying the tools available to a Justice as she decides individual cases. However, part of it also requires adopting a regime perspective—ensuring that a Justice’s actions meet the challenges of her own constitutional moment. In my account, Chief Justice Roberts takes centerstage. Beginning with legal craft, I analyze the tools that Roberts employs to preserve the Court’s legitimacy in concrete cases—namely, coalition building, calls for action by the elected branches, incrementalism, charity for the opposing side, triangulating between constitutional extremes, and promoting a vision of institutional humility. From there, I adopt a regime perspective, charting three future paths for the Roberts Court—each with its own set of challenges for the Justices as they seek to preserve the Court’s institutional legitimacy.
Keywords: constitutional law, constitutional theory, judicial review, Supreme Court legitimacy, Supreme Court, Roberts Court, Chief Justice John Roberts, constitutional practice
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation