Challenges to the Impartiality of State Supreme Courts: Legitimacy Theory and 'New-Style' Judicial Campaigns

American Political Science Review, Forthcoming

48 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2007  

James L. Gibson

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Political Science

Abstract

Institutional legitimacy is perhaps the most important political capital courts possess. Many believe, however, that the legitimacy of elected state courts is being threatened by the rise of politicized judicial election campaigns and the breakdown of judicial impartiality. Three features of such campaigns, the argument goes, are dangerous to the perceived impartiality of courts: campaign contributions, attack ads, and policy pronouncements by candidates for judicial office. By means of an experimental vignette embedded in a representative survey, I investigate whether these factors in fact compromise the legitimacy of courts. The survey data indicate that campaign contributions and attack ads do indeed lead to a diminution of legitimacy, in courts just as in legislatures. However, policy pronouncements, even those promising to make decisions in certain ways, have no impact whatsoever on the legitimacy of courts and judges. These results are strongly reinforced by the experiment's ability to compare the effects of these campaign factors across institutions (a state Supreme Court and a state legislature). Thus, this analysis demonstrates that legitimacy is not obdurate and that campaign activity can indeed deplete the reservoir of goodwill courts typically enjoy, even if the culprit is not the free-speech rights the U.S. Supreme Court announced in 2002.

Keywords: State Judicial Elections, Institutional Legitimacy, Campaigning, Public Opinion

JEL Classification: K40

Suggested Citation

Gibson, James L., Challenges to the Impartiality of State Supreme Courts: Legitimacy Theory and 'New-Style' Judicial Campaigns. American Political Science Review, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=996302

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

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