Considering Legitimacy

Considering Legitimacy
GILLIAN E. METZGER*
ABSTRACT
This Article on Richard Fallon’s Law and Legitimacy in the Supreme Court
focuses on public acceptance of the Supreme Court’s authority, what Fallon
calls sociological legitimacy. After setting out Fallon’s accounts of legitimacy
and constitutional argumentation, the Article looks at public opinion data and
political science scholarship on the extent to which the Court’s decisions affect
public acceptance of the Court. It then turns to the normative question of
whether, even if the Court’s decisions may undermine its sociological legiti-
macy, that impact is a legally legitimate factor for the Court to consider. The
Article argues that strategic consideration of the Court’s public legitimacy can
be an appropriate factor in the Justices’ decision making, but such considera-
tion may end up actually harming the Court’s reputation if undertaken openly
and candidly as Fallon would seem to require.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. FALLONS ACCOUNT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 357
A. Multiple Legitimacies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 357
B. The Practice of Constitutional Adjudication . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 359
C. A Sympathetic Critique . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 361
II. SOCIOLOGICAL LEGITIMACY AND CONSTITUTIONAL
ADJUDICATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 364
A. Politicized Decision Making and Public Acceptance of the
Supreme Court . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 364
B. Is the Court’s Consideration of Sociological Legitimacy
Defensible?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 370
C. Candor and Sociological Legitimacy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 378
* Harlan Fiske Stone Professor of Constitutional Law, Columbia Law School. Special thanks to
Dick Fallon for writing such a wonderful book, to Randy Barnett for the invitation to participate in the
Cooley Symposium, to participants in the Columbia Law School faculty workshop for their helpful
comments, and to Tyler Finn for exceptional research assistance. © 2020, Gillian E. Metzger.
353
It would be hard to imagine a more auspicious time for a symposium on
Richard Fallon’s Law and Legitimacy in the Supreme Court. The legitimacy of
the Supreme Court is at the forefront of political and public life to an extent not
seen for decades.
1
To be sure, attacks on the Supreme Court from both sides of
the political spectrum have been growing for years.
2
But today challenges to the
Court are at new levels, pushed there by the deep political divides over the courts
that were evident in the recent political battles over Justice Kavanaugh’s conf‌ir-
mation and Judge Merrick Garland’s failed nomination, and the resultant shift to
the right of the Court’s membership.
3
Both conservative and liberal commenta-
tors portray the Supreme Court’s legitimacy as under threat, though they diverge
dramatically in their accounts of the source of that threat and how the Court
should respond.
4
The Court’s legitimacy is increasingly a subject for legal
1. See, e.g., Barry Friedman, The Coming Storm over the Supreme Court, N.Y. TIMES (Oct. 18,
2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/08/opinion/kavanaugh-supreme-court-conservative.html
[https://perma.cc/QL7Q-BTG5].
2. See, e.g., Eric R. Claeys, Sebelius and the Election, NATL REV. (July 30, 2012), https://www.
nationalreview.com/2012/07/sebelius-and-election-eric-r-claeys/ [https://perma.cc/U5RY-ZNUN] (criticizing
Chief Justice Roberts for violating principles of statutory interpretation in order to uphold the
constitutionality of Obamacare); Richard Hasen, The Chief Justice’s Long Game, N.Y. TIMES (June 25,
2013), https://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/26/opinion/the-chief-Justices-long-game.html [https://perma.cc/
VPC9-TNAM] (critiquing Shelby Cty. v. Holder as a dramatic reversal of constitutional law hidden “behind
a cloak of judicial minimalism”); Anthony Lewis, Abroad at Home: The Supreme Power, N.Y. TIMES (June
29, 1999), https://www.nytimes.com/1999/06/29/opinion/abroad-at-home-the-supreme-power.htm l [https://
perma.cc/P9ZA-C9ZK] (labelling the Rehnquist Court “a band of radical judicial activists determined to
impose on the Constitution their notion of a proper system of government”); Howard Slugh, Obergefell’s
Toxic Judicial Legacy, NATL REV. (Apr. 10, 2017), https://www.nationalreview.com/2017/04/obergefell-
judges-invent-rights/ [https://perma.cc/5G3S-GF4B] (complaining that Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion
in Obergefell v. Hodges encouraged “judges [to] read inventive new rights into the Constitution”) For a
discussion of the criticism directed at the Warren Court’s judicial activism, see BARRY FRIEDMAN, THE WILL
OF THE PEOPLE 244, 257–58 (2009).
3. See Linda Greenhouse, The Broken Supreme Court, N.Y. TIMES (Apr. 13, 2017), https://www.
nytimes.com/2018/06/21/opinion/supreme-court-janus-unions.html [https://perma.cc/5NQQ-NS4R];
Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux & Oliver Roeder, Is the Supreme Court Facing A Legitimacy Crisis?,
FIVETHIRTYEIGHT (Oct. 1 2018), https://f‌ivethirtyeight.com/features/is-the-supreme-court-facing-a-
legitimacy-crisis/ [https://perma.cc/8UK6-75D9]; Matthew Yglesias, Brett Kavanaugh’s Conf‌irmation
Will Delegitimize the Supreme Court—And That’s Good, VOX (Oct. 5, 2018), https://www.vox.com/
2018/10/5/17941312/brett-kavanaugh-supreme-court-legitimacy [https://perma.cc/SLX8-43VX].
4. Compare, e.g., William McGurn, John Roberts’s ‘Illegitimate’ Court, WALL ST. J. (May 27,
2019), https://www.wsj.com/articles/john-robertss-illegitimate-court-11558989312 [https://perma.cc/
SW3S-6EWG] (arguing that not overturning Roe out of fear of political response undercuts the Court’s
legitimacy), and Ilya Shapiro, How the Supreme Court Undermines Its Own Legitimacy, WASH.
EXAMINER (July 18, 2019), https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/how-the-supreme-court-
undermines-its-own-legitimacy [https://perma.cc/Q7FR-X949] (arguing that deciding cases with an eye
to political repercussions destroys the public belief that the Court is moved by law and not politics,
which is central to its legitimacy), with Leah Litman et al., We Ought to Be Concerned About Preserving
the Political Order of the Supreme Court, WASH. POST (June 18, 2019), https://www.washingtonpost.
com/opinions/yes-the-publics-perception-of-the-supreme-court-matters/2019/06/18/5b25128c-91e6-11e9-
b58a-a6a9afaa0e3e_story.html [https://perma.cc/9CTE-WR3L] (arguing it is legitimate for the Court to
take its public legitimacy into account).
354 THE GEORGETOWN JOURNAL OF LAW & PUBLIC POLICY [Vol. 18:353

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT