U.S. Supreme Court Legitimacy

Unanswered Questions and an Agenda for Future Research

Authored by: Michael J. Nelson , James L. Gibson

Routledge Handbook of Judicial Behavior

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  October  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138913356
eBook ISBN: 9781315691527
Adobe ISBN:


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In recent years, scholarly interest in the legitimacy of both individual judicial institutions and the judicial system as a whole has exploded, with new studies challenging and refining our understanding of diffuse support for the legal system. In this chapter, we review the recent findings in this area of research, paying special attention to how individual-level legitimacy judgments are formed, how they are shaped by life experiences, and how shorter-term evaluations of institutional performance, such as displeasing decisions and perceptions of politicization, may or may not harm institutional support. Throughout, we emphasize fertile areas for further research, identifying key topics of inquiry that demand scholarly attention. As news breaks daily about protests as varied as those in Baltimore, Ferguson, and on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, and as the Court is poised to issue high-profile rulings on affirmative action, abortion, and religious liberty, understanding the etiology and dynamics of legitimacy has never been a more important area of inquiry.

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