The legitimacy of the US supreme court: Conventional wisdoms and recent challenges thereto

James L. Gibson, Michael J. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Research on the legitimacy of the US Supreme Court has blossomed of late, with scholars investigating many different hypotheses derived from legitimacy theory. As the theory has been pushed, a number of new controversies have emerged. Here, we identify four such debates: (a) whether the Court's legitimacy rests on satisfaction with its performance, (b) whether support for the Supreme Court reflects the polarization of politics in the contemporary United States, (c) whether the Court's legitimacy requires belief in the "myth of legality", and (d) whether judicial decisions can change public opinion. Our analysis of these issues generally concludes that the Supreme Court's legitimacy is reasonably secure, in part because individual rulings have little impact on support for the institution, in part because the Court has access to powerful and influential symbols of judicial authority, and in part because the current Supreme Court issues roughly equal numbers of conservative and liberal decisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-219
Number of pages19
JournalAnnual Review of Law and Social Science
StatePublished - Nov 3 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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