Student Research

The Effect of Median Judges on Supreme Court Legitimacy

While perceptually separate from the other two branches of the federal government, the Judicial Branch’s Supreme Court is viewed as an institution abstaining from politics and serving as the largest check on the Executive and Legislative powers. However, intermingling of these branches raises concerns of association that the appointments and the Justices’ rulings, post-appointment, are politically aligned with the ideological subscription of the appointers. As a result, close attention to public opinion on the levels of support towards specific rulings, known as specific support, and support towards the institution, or diffuse support, is necessary to be evaluated in a highly polarized environment but with the existence of a tie-breaking median Justice. The objective of this study is to examine the extent to which public support, both specific and diffuse, varies given respondents’ answers to mock Supreme Court decisions with and without the vote of a moderate Justice. The results of this study find that individuals are more likely to be in favor of the decisions that host a Median Justice especially when the decision falls in line with their personal ideology. However, the Median Justice plays a minimal role for individuals when decisions are not in line with their beliefs, additionally the interaction with diffuse support might be influenced by their support for specific decisions. This research adds to previous examinations of public support for the Supreme Court and analyzes whether median justices, included in ideologically-based decisions opposite to respondents, affects the level of specific support for the Court.

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