Chapter 4: Public Opinion

In his dissent in Baker v. Carr (369 US 186 [1962]), Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter identified the dependence of the US Supreme Court (or any US court, for that matter) on its legitimacy among the mass public. “The Court’s authority – possessed of neither the purse nor the sword – ultimately rests upon sustained public confidence in its moral sanction” (369 US 186, 267). To put it simply, without legitimacy, without the public’s acceptance or at least tolerance for its decisions, the Court is powerless. Thus, studies examining the forces associated with public confidence in the judiciary are a staple in judicial politics research, This section contains two such examples. First, Professor Miles Armaly asks whether the pointed criticism of elected officials can affect the Court’s legitimacy among those politicians’ supporters. Employing an experimental design, he finds this to be the case, a result of some significance given the current era of hyper-polarization where even the courts have become targets of partisan arrows. Professors Kenneth Fernandez and Jason Husser examine the forces that systematically affect variation in pubic support for state courts. After reviewing the nature of the judicial systems across the 50 states, they focus their analysis on survey data measuring public support for the state courts in North Carolina. They find that levels of support vary with forces such as education, age, race, and ideology. Their findings are highly relevant given the large policy making role the states play in our federal system.


4.1 Armaly, Miles. “Influence of Politicians on Public Support for the Judiciary”

4.2 Fernandez, Kenneth and Jason Husser. “Public Attitudes toward State Courts.”


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Open Judicial Politics Copyright © 2020 by Rorie Spill Solberg, Jennifer Segal Diascro, & Eric J. Waltenburg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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