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"New-Style" Judicial Campaigns and the Legitimacy of State High Courts
Unformatted Document Text:  See Persily and Lammie (2004) for what is perhaps the definitive study on American attitudes toward 9 campaign contributions. Gibson (2008) provides an overview of this literature. For a recent review ofcampaign spending in state judicial elections, see Bonneau 2007a, 2007b. A growing literature on the effects of campaign contributions on judges’ decisions exists. See for 10 example Cann 2002. -6- by the ads was that the Supreme Court is just like any other political institution, and as such, is not worthy of high esteem. The ads broadcast by friends and foes of Judge Alito seem to have cost the Supreme Court some of its institutional support. Finally, a study of the attitudes of the residents of Kentucky directly considers the question of whether campaign activity undermines state court legitimacy. In this research, Gibson (2008) utilized an experimental vignette that exposes the respondents to different types of campaign activities, including policy speech. His analysis indicates that the alarmists are most likely wrong in their concern about judicial legitimacy being threatened. When citizens hear issue-based speech from candidates for judicial office, court legitimacy does not suffer. It seems that many Americans (or at least Kentuckians) are not at all uncomfortable when candidates for the bench announce how they feel about the sorts of socio- political issues coming before courts these days. Gibson’s research suggests that policy speech during campaigns may not be damaging to institutional legitimacy. However, that research also found that the receipt of campaign contributions can threaten legitimacy. Contributions to candidates for judicial office imply for many a conflict of interest, 9 even a quid pro quo relationship between the donor and the judge, which undermines perceived impartiality and legitimacy. But it is important to note that there is nothing distinctive about the 10 judiciary on this score: Gibson finds that campaign contributions to candidates for the state legislature also imply a conflict of interest and therefore can detract from the legitimacy of legislatures as well. Finally, the experiment demonstrated that attack ads undermine judicial and legislative legitimacy. The effect is not nearly as great as that of campaign contributions, but citizens exposed to

Authors: Gibson, James.
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background image
See Persily and Lammie (2004) for what is perhaps the definitive study on American attitudes toward
9
campaign contributions. Gibson (2008) provides an overview of this literature. For a recent review of
campaign spending in state judicial elections, see Bonneau 2007a, 2007b.
A growing literature on the effects of campaign contributions on judges’ decisions exists. See for
10
example Cann 2002.
-6-
by the ads was that the Supreme Court is just like any other political institution, and as such, is not
worthy of high esteem. The ads broadcast by friends and foes of Judge Alito seem to have cost the
Supreme Court some of its institutional support.
Finally, a study of the attitudes of the residents of Kentucky directly considers the question of
whether campaign activity undermines state court legitimacy. In this research, Gibson (2008) utilized an
experimental vignette that exposes the respondents to different types of campaign activities, including
policy speech. His analysis indicates that the alarmists are most likely wrong in their concern about
judicial legitimacy being threatened. When citizens hear issue-based speech from candidates for judicial
office, court legitimacy does not suffer. It seems that many Americans (or at least Kentuckians) are not at
all uncomfortable when candidates for the bench announce how they feel about the sorts of socio-
political issues coming before courts these days.
Gibson’s research suggests that policy speech during campaigns may not be damaging to
institutional legitimacy. However, that research also found that the receipt of campaign contributions can
threaten legitimacy. Contributions to candidates for judicial office imply for many a conflict of interest,
9
even a quid pro quo relationship between the donor and the judge, which undermines perceived
impartiality and legitimacy. But it is important to note that there is nothing distinctive about the
10
judiciary on this score: Gibson finds that campaign contributions to candidates for the state legislature
also imply a conflict of interest and therefore can detract from the legitimacy of legislatures as well.
Finally, the experiment demonstrated that attack ads undermine judicial and legislative
legitimacy. The effect is not nearly as great as that of campaign contributions, but citizens exposed to


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