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"New-Style" Judicial Campaigns and the Legitimacy of State High Courts
Unformatted Document Text:  Abstract I nstitutional legitimacy is perhaps the most important political capital courts possess. Many believe, however, that the legitimacy of elected state courts is being threatened by the rise of politicized judicial election campaigns. At least three features of such campaigns, the argument goes, are dangerous to the perceived impartiality of courts: campaign contributions, attack ads, and policy pronouncements by candidates for judicial office. By means of an experimental vignette embedded in a representative national survey, I investigate whether these factors in fact compromise the perceived impartiality of courts. The survey data indicate that campaign contributions do indeed lead to a diminution of legitimacy, in courts just as in legislatures. The use of attack ads detracts from legislative legitimacy, but not from the legitimacy of courts. Most important, however, policy pronouncements, even those promising to make decisions in a certain way, have no impact whatsoever on the legitimacy of courts and judges. Thus, this analysis demonstrates that legitimacy is not obdurate and that campaign activity can indeed deplete the reservoir of goodwill courts typically enjoy in the United States, even if the culprit is not the free-speech rights of candidates for state judicial office.

Authors: Gibson, James.
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Abstract
I
nstitutional legitimacy is perhaps the most important political capital courts possess. Many believe,
however, that the legitimacy of elected state courts is being threatened by the rise of politicized judicial
election campaigns. At least three features of such campaigns, the argument goes, are dangerous to the
perceived impartiality of courts: campaign contributions, attack ads, and policy pronouncements by
candidates for judicial office. By means of an experimental vignette embedded in a representative
national survey, I investigate whether these factors in fact compromise the perceived impartiality of
courts. The survey data indicate that campaign contributions do indeed lead to a diminution of
legitimacy, in courts just as in legislatures. The use of attack ads detracts from legislative legitimacy, but
not from the legitimacy of courts. Most important, however, policy pronouncements, even those
promising to make decisions in a certain way, have no impact whatsoever on the legitimacy of courts and
judges. Thus, this analysis demonstrates that legitimacy is not obdurate and that campaign activity can
indeed deplete the reservoir of goodwill courts typically enjoy in the United States, even if the culprit is
not the free-speech rights of candidates for state judicial office.


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