Loyalty over Fairness: Acceptance of Unfair Supreme Court Procedures

AuthorMiles T. Armaly
Published date01 December 2021
Date01 December 2021
Subject MatterArticles
2021, Vol. 74(4) 927 –940
Political Research Quarterly
© 2020 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912920944470
Public perception of fair U.S. Supreme Court procedures
is strongly related to support for the judiciary and
compl iance with its decisions (Baird 2001; Gibson 1991;
Lind and Tyler 1988; Tyler 2006). However, recent evi-
dence indicates that commitment to certain moral norms—
such as fairness and honesty—is rooted in, and can be
suppressed by, group attachment (Hildreth, Gino, and
Bazerman 2016; Waytz, Dungan, and Young 2013).
Although outright cheating is seen as unethical and an
unacceptable moral failure (Gneezy 2005), there are
instances where ordinary individuals value loyalty
(Hildreth and Anderson 2018) and expect favoritism
(Bian, Sloane, and Baillargeon 2018). Specifically, uneth-
ical acts that are perceived as stemming from loyalty are
viewed more positively than ethical acts that are disloyal
(Hildreth and Anderson 2018). A tension exists between
fairness and loyalty (Waytz, Dungan, and Young 2013),
and individuals can encounter a psychological dilemma
when each norm is simultaneously primed. Due to the
preeminence of group loyalty (Tajfel and Turner 1979),
individuals may be willing to ignore violations of standard
norms—like fairness—when their group benefits.
In light of evidence that loyalty can trump fairness,
and on the immense—and growing—influence of group
loyalty in American politics (e.g., Iyengar and Westwood
2015), I believe now is an appropriate time to reexamine
the relationship between fairness and support for the
Supreme Court. Great rifts between, and cohesion among,
groups in the United States have occurred in recent
decades, such that individuals increasingly align with the
political in-group and increasingly avoid and dislike the
out-group (Huddy, Mason, and Aarøe 2015; Iyengar,
Sood, and Lelkes 2012; Iyengar and Westwood 2015).
Group members feel pride for conformity and shame for
disloyalty (Suhay 2015). This Balkanization, and the
motivations that accompany social identity-based polar-
ization, provides fertile ground for loyalty to confront
sociopolitical and moral norms like fairness.
This study sets out to determine whether individuals
are willing to forgo fairness on the part of the Supreme
Court when their group benefits. I take “fairness” to
encompass a host of characteristics, like trustworthiness,
ethicality, integrity, honesty, and believability. I ask
whether individuals will accept Court procedures that vio-
late these principles, provided that they view themselves
as policy “winners.” To find out, I conducted a nationally
representative survey with an embedded experiment, as
well as a convenience sample survey experiment. To con-
firm that the average American actually perceives the
Court to be fair (an important first step, given the assertion
944470PRQXXX10.1177/1065912920944470Political Research QuarterlyArmaly
1The University of Mississippi, University, USA
Corresponding Author:
Miles T. Armaly, The University of Mississippi, 233 Deupree Hall,
University, MS 38677, USA.
Email: mtarmaly@olemiss.edu
Loyalty over Fairness: Acceptance of
Unfair Supreme Court Procedures
Miles T. Armaly1
Evidence of procedural fairness leads individuals to support Supreme Court decisions, even ones with which they
disagree. Yet, in some settings, unfair behavior is seen as acceptable, even praiseworthy, if it yields a pleasing outcome
for one’s group. The loyalty norm occasionally trumps the fairness norm, and group loyalty has taken on increasing
importance in American politics. I use a nationally representative survey with an embedded experiment, and a
convenience sample survey experiment, to relate group (i.e., partisan) loyalty and perceptions of (un)fair behavior to
support for the Court. I find that when group concerns are unclear, individuals tend to punish the Court for unfair
behavior. However, despite conventional wisdom regarding fairness and support, individuals fail to censure unfair
behavior when their group benefits from the Court’s impropriety. These effects hold when integrating preferences
regarding specific case outcomes. Perceived unfair procedures do not universally harm evaluations of the Supreme
Supreme Court, group loyalty, procedural fairness, support

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