Thank you for visiting the website of the Judicial Legitimacy Around the World Project. We seek to systematically investigate the public's support for norms that have long buttressed the democratic architecture of majority rule in countries around the world.
Scholars of judicial independence have long suggested that democratically elected incumbents who attack popular courts do so at their own peril: the threat of public mobilization and electoral retribution might buttress high courts from political interference. Our survey experiments fielded in nine presidential systems make evident that although incumbent attacks are rarely popular, incumbents face limited costs to interbranch attacks. The electoral connection is a feeble mechanism to protect judicial independence, a fact which upends longstanding assumptions about institutional legitimacy and its consequences for ambitious politicians who seek to bend the judiciary to their will.
This research is funded by the National Science Foundation, SES-1920977, SES-1920915 & SES-2025927.
AMANDA DRISCOLL AND MICHAEL J. NELSON, 2023. THE COSTS OF COURT CURBING: EVIDENCE FROM THE UNITED STATES. THE JOURNAL OF POLITICS. 85(2):609-624. DOI.
Winner of the 2021 APSA Law & Courts Section Best Conference Paper Award and the 2022 Neal Tate Award for Best Conference Paper in Judicial Politics at the SPSA
Canonical models of interbranch relations assume that incumbents undermine well-respected courts at their own peril. Although court curbing proposals are frequent in diverse political and institutional contexts, there have been few efforts to examine the electoral cost of interbranch aggression. Drawing upon vignette and conjoint experiments, we find some evidence that the public will punish incumbents for attacks on courts. However, the size of the effect varies: it is largest among individuals who hold the court in high esteem and can be mitigated by copartisanship with the proposer. Moreover, once information about partisanship and issue positions is available to respondents, the effect of supporting court curbing is smaller than those other considerations. These results have implications for the public's willingness to safeguard the institutional separation of powers via the electoral connection and suggest that politicians may engage in activities that erode democracy without a broad loss of public support.
NELSON, MICHAEL J. AND AMANDA DRISCOLL, 2023. ACCOUNTABILITY FOR COURT PACKING. THE JOURNAL OF LAW & COURTS. 1-22. DOI.
How does the public respond to court packing attempts? Longstanding accounts of public support for courts suggest voters retaliate against incumbents who seek to manipulate well-respected courts. Yet incumbents might strategically frame their efforts in bureaucratic terms to minimize the public's outcry or use court packing proposals to activate a partisan base of support. Drawing on a series of survey experiments, we demonstrate that strategic politicians can minimize electoral backlash by couching court reform proposals in apolitical language, and institutional legitimacy's shielding effect dissolves in the face of shared partisanship. These results shed new light on how ambitious politicians might avoid electoral consequences for efforts to bend the judiciary to their will.
ARE COURTS DIFFERENT? EXPERIMENTAL EVIDENCE FROM THE UNITED STATES (WITH MICHAEL J. NELSON), 2023. RESEARCH & POLITICS. 10(3). DOI.
U.S. courts have long been thought to be held in special regard by the American public, and public support is theorized to protect institutions from interbranch aggression. At the same time, recent research underscores that institutional fealty and public reaction to court curbing is shaped by partisan concerns. Drawing on a survey experiment fielded in the U.S., we evaluate whether (1) the public is uniquely punitive toward incumbents who seek to undermine a court rather than an agency and (2) the extent to which these penalties are dependent upon shared partisanship with the proposer. We demonstrate that the public is less supportive of efforts to strip judicial power than analogous efforts to strip power from an executive agency, but that this penalty for court curbing dissipates in the face of copartisanship. This substantiates previous claims regarding the role of partisanship on shaping public attitudes about high courts but underscores that the American public may still hold the courts in unique regard.
Obdurate conventional wisdom suggests that the public support the U.S. Supreme Court enjoys is unique while widespread pessimism colors extant assessments of high courts' legitimacy throughout the Americas. Using data from the AmericasBarometer, we show that not only is the U.S. Supreme Court not an anomaly, but the widespread assumption that Latin American courts are lacking in legitimacy is fundamentally wrong.
Here we will post all materials that utilize the JLAW data designed for classroom instruction.
Below are students who are or have been affiliated with this project.
We are indebted to them for their excellent assistance. *=Funded
Professor Driscoll is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Florida State University and Associate Professor Law (by Courtesy) at the Florida State College of Law. Her personal website can be found at amandadriscoll.xyz.