Extra-judicial Actor Induced Change in Supreme Court Legitimacy

Date01 September 2018
Published date01 September 2018
Subject MatterArticles
750278PRQXXX10.1177/1065912917750278Political Research QuarterlyArmaly
Political Research Quarterly
2018, Vol. 71(3) 600 –613
Extra-judicial Actor Induced Change in
© 2017 University of Utah
Reprints and permissions:
Supreme Court Legitimacy
DOI: 10.1177/1065912917750278
Miles T. Armaly1
Although public support for the U.S. Supreme Court is generally stable, various cues and heuristics affect how individuals
derive political opinions. And while the Court is capable of conferring support on its own decisions, information from
extra-judicial sources—such as presidential candidates—may have a potentially (de)legitimizing influence on individuals
and their attitudes. Using a survey experimental design, I manipulate the source of negative statements about the
judiciary to determine whether extra-judicial actors are capable of altering support for the Court and, if so, whether it
is via ideological updating or is a purely affective response. I find that political actors unrelated to the Court are capable
of producing change in attitudes and that those changes are affective. Those positive toward the cue source decrease
their level of support upon hearing indicting statements, and vice versa, but individuals do not alter their perceived
ideological distance from the Court. This finding has implications for the stability of the support on which the Court
relies to expect compliance with its rulings, as well as how affective attachments to groups and their representatives
influence institutional loyalty.
Supreme Court, legitimacy, public opinion, affective politics
President Donald Trump has proven to be an effective
to enforce its decisions? More broadly, can political
rhetorician, inducing action from corporations and con-
actors—such as President Trump or once presidential can-
sumers alike when he makes proclamations. For instance,
didate Hillary Clinton—compel individuals to reevaluate
his tweet “Cancel order!” to Boeing compelled the aircraft
their attitudes toward the Supreme Court and disrupt the
manufacturer to commit to rein in costs of the new Air
delicate separation of powers balance? And, if so, are indi-
Force One project and to donate to Trump’s inauguration.
viduals altering their attitudes in a strictly affective man-
Even actions only tangential to Trump have spurred action
ner or are they learning something about the ideological
among consumers; #BoycottNiemans, #BoycottStarbucks,
location of the Court?
and #DeleteUber are grassroots responses to various
Members of the American public largely believe that
actions of companies perceived to either support or oppose
the Supreme Court is worthy of trust and that its actions
President Trump. As journalists write, “. . . the heads of
are legitimate (Caldeira and Gibson 1992). These psycho-
big American companies are being confronted by a leader
logical attachments to the judiciary—termed institutional
willing to call them out directly and publicly for his policy
legitimacy or diffuse support—tend to be connected to
and political aims” (Shear and Drew 2016). Perhaps most
enduring orientations such as democratic values (Gibson
striking is that 51 percent of Trump supporters agree with
and Nelson 2015a) and support for procedural justice
his claim that the media is the enemy. This is all to say that
(Baird 2001; Tyler 2006). Yet recent research suggests
people react when Trump speaks, be it via boycott, “buy-
there is mobility in legitimacy attitudes and that they are
cott,” or altering or entrenching one’s political attitudes.
more closely connected to performance evaluations and
Under scrutiny here is what might happen should the
political cues than previously believed (Bartels and
U.S. Supreme Court become the subject of Trump’s ire.
Johnston 2013; Christenson and Glick 2015; Clark and
More generally, I evaluate what happens when affective
Kastellec 2015). Thus, there are conflicting accounts on
attachments to an institution confront similar attachments
to a political figure. That is, what is the outcome when a
1University of Mississippi, USA
president who effectively compels action with his words
Corresponding Author:
sets his sights on an institution for which there is a strong
Miles T. Armaly, Department of Political Science, University of
basis of support, that is viewed as highly legitimate, and
Mississippi, 133 Deupree Hall, University, MS 38677, USA.
who relies on public support to expect the elected branches
Email: mtarmaly@olemiss.edu

whether positivity toward the Court can be altered. On
ask whether any changes that may occur are driven by
one hand, some argue that a wealth of positive attitudes
affective motivated reasoning or ideological updating.
insulates the judiciary even when it has made an unpopu-
That is, are changes in evaluations of the Court a function
lar decision (Gibson, Caldeira, and Spence 2003b). On
of one’s affective attachments to Trump or Clinton or of
the other hand, some salient and politically charged cases
receiving information from those sources and updating
may cause people to reevaluate their position vis-à-vis
one’s ideological position vis-à-vis the Court? The results
the judiciary and, ultimately, adjust their level of support
are clear: diffuse support is malleable, and alterations are
(Christenson and Glick 2015). Furthermore, political fig-
affective. Individuals who dislike a political figure
ures are adept at influencing public sentiments toward
increase their level of support for the Supreme Court after
various political stimuli (e.g., Bullock 2011; Lenz 2012).
exposure to that person’s negative statements and vice
Finally, misperceptions of the ideological location of the
versa. Across the range of support for Clinton, there is a
Supreme Court appear capable of driving individual-
nearly 50 percent difference across the range of change in
level support for the institution (Bartels and Johnston
support for the Supreme Court. For Trump, this value is
2013; Hetherington and Smith 2007). Here, I set out to
around 35 percent.
determine whether those misperceptions can be manipu-
This study directly links statements of individual poli-
lated by extra-judicial political actors such as President
ticians—specifically, a presidential candidate and presi-
dent elect, both of whom were in positions to frequently
There is little question that sustained disappointment
discuss the Supreme Court—to changes in diffuse sup-
with judicial outcomes will lead to less support for the
port for the judiciary and demonstrates that those changes
institution. It is the swiftness with which these changes
are affective in nature. Previous studies have linked par-
occur that is open to debate. Furthermore, it is assumed
ticular cues to alterations in support (e.g., Christenson
that individuals only adjust their assessments of the judi-
and Glick 2015; Clark and Kastellec 2015), but none
ciary following the actions of the Court itself. Yet mem-
have simultaneously examined diffuse support, individ-
bers of the mass public frequently rely on heuristics and
ual political figures, and the mechanisms underpinning
various source cues when generating opinions (Clark and
attitudinal change. In addition, these results imply that
Kastellec 2015; Goren, Federico, and Kittilson 2009;
affect toward a partisan figure—with whom one’s social
Lupia 1994). As Nicholson and Hansford (2014) relate,
identity may be connected (Huddy, Mason, and Aarøe
“In making political judgments, the public is most likely
2015; Suhay 2015)—outweighs existing positivity
to draw on trusted and credible source cues” (p. 2).
toward an institution. Affective attachments to partisan
Relatively unexamined in this line of research is the role
figures from whom citizens regularly adopt their political
of more expressly political figures in assessments of dif-
stances (see Lenz 2012) may be legitimacy’s unique vul-
fuse support for the Court. While evaluations of other
nerability. These effects also have very serious potential
political institutions are related to support for the Supreme
consequences for the Supreme Court’s ability to produce
Court (e.g., Caldeira 1986; Ura and Wohlfarth 2010), to
decisions that are enforced. The public plays a crucial
the best of my knowledge, no scholarship asks whether
role in the separation of powers exchange such that the
individual political figures can cause modifications to
elected branches are compelled to offer deference to the
individual levels of legitimacy (although see Dolbeare
Court when the public is supportive (Clark 2009; Ura and
and Hammond (1968), who demonstrate that public atti-
Wohlfarth 2010). That members of the elected branches,
tudes toward the Court are related to whether one’s pre-
or salient political figures more generally, may be capable
ferred political party controls the White House). I suggest
of altering this support is troublesome, as it would offer
that individuals may desire cognitive balance when con-
these institutions license to curb court authority.
sidering their preferred political figures in relation to sup-
port for the judiciary. This is an important consideration,
Elite Cueing and Support for the
as political figures...

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