, Volume 36, Issue 4, pp 817-846
Date: 13 Oct 2013

Ideological Proximity and Support for The Supreme Court

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Abstract

Although the Supreme Court is a countermajoritarian institution by design, many scholars have contended that without concrete powers, the Court relies on public support for legitimacy. Accordingly, it is important to understand the relationship between people’s ideological proximity to the Court and their support for it. Existing empirical research suggests a correspondence between public opinion and the Court’s positions, but these studies do not directly compare masses and elites in a common space. To address these issues, we conducted an original survey asking respondents about their positions on ten recently decided Supreme Court cases. This allows us to estimate the positions of citizens and justices on the same ideological scale. Further, while some existing theories of perceptions of judicial legitimacy suggest similar relationships between ideological distance and various types of support for the Court, we propose a theory of heterogeneous responsiveness which posits that citizens’ ideological distance from the Court should be negatively related to their approval of and trust in the institution, but positively related to their support for its countermajoritarian function. Our empirical approach finds support for the theory.