How does hyperpoliticized rhetoric affect the US Supreme court’s legitimacy?

Michael J. Nelson, James L. Gibson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Many believe that President Trump’s criticisms of the judiciary pose real and immediate threats to judicial legitimacy. However, framing theory suggests that source credibility is a prerequisite for such frames to be effective. Relying on an experiment embedded in a multiwave, nationally representative sample of Americans, we examine whether public attacks on the judiciary—by either Trump or distinguished law professors—affect the US Supreme Court’s legitimacy. We demonstrate that criticisms of the Court from either source are only deleterious among respondents who believe the source is credible; source credibility also shapes agreement with the criticism. Because President Trump is viewed with distrust by a majority of Americans, his comments pose only a limited threat to the Court’s legitimacy. However, our data also suggest that a more credible source (inside or outside government), using similar attacks, could do considerable damage to the legitimacy of the American government’s most fragile branch.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1512-1516
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Politics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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