Citizens, Courts, and Confirmations: Positivity Theory and the Judgments of the American People

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Overview

In recent years the American public has witnessed several hard-fought battles over nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court. In these heated confirmation fights, candidates' legal and political philosophies have been subject to intense scrutiny and debate. Citizens, Courts, and Confirmations examines one such fight--over the nomination of Samuel Alito--to discover how and why people formed opinions about the nominee, and to determine how the confirmation process shaped perceptions of the Supreme Court's legitimacy.

Drawing on a nationally representative survey, James Gibson and Gregory Caldeira use the Alito confirmation fight as a window into public attitudes about the nation's highest court. They find that Americans know far more about the Supreme Court than many realize, that the Court enjoys a great deal of legitimacy among the American people, that attitudes toward the Court as an institution generally do not suffer from partisan or ideological polarization, and that public knowledge enhances the legitimacy accorded the Court. Yet the authors demonstrate that partisan and ideological infighting that treats the Court as just another political institution undermines the considerable public support the institution currently enjoys, and that politicized confirmation battles pose a grave threat to the basic legitimacy of the Supreme Court.

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of Politics
As a piece of research, Citizens is everything court scholars have come to expect from these two authors: its innovative methodology and provocative findings contribute significantly to the literature on public opinion and the judiciary. . . . Like any good study, Citizens both advances the literature and serves as an impetus for future work.
— Nicholas LaRowe
Political Psychology
I found this book to be an excellent example of cutting edge research that can be highly useful in the classroom. [This book is an] excellent example of the best of current judicial politics research.
— Mark C. Miller
Law and Politics Book Review - Richard L. Vining
Citizens, Courts, and Confirmations is a significant contribution to the literature on judicial politics. Its findings are interesting and unique, and it provides a number of insights likely to prompt further studies of courts and the citizenry. . . . Any scholar or citizen interested in the interrelations of courts and public opinion should read Citizens, Courts, and Confirmations, and it will surely find its way on to the syllabi of numerous graduate courses on judicial politics.
Journal of Politics - Nicholas LaRowe
As a piece of research, Citizens is everything court scholars have come to expect from these two authors: its innovative methodology and provocative findings contribute significantly to the literature on public opinion and the judiciary. . . . Like any good study, Citizens both advances the literature and serves as an impetus for future work.
Political Psychology - Mark C. Miller
I found this book to be an excellent example of cutting edge research that can be highly useful in the classroom. [This book is an] excellent example of the best of current judicial politics research.
From the Publisher

"Citizens, Courts, and Confirmations is a significant contribution to the literature on judicial politics. Its findings are interesting and unique, and it provides a number of insights likely to prompt further studies of courts and the citizenry. . . . Any scholar or citizen interested in the interrelations of courts and public opinion should read Citizens, Courts, and Confirmations, and it will surely find its way on to the syllabi of numerous graduate courses on judicial politics."--Richard L. Vining, Law and Politics Book Review

"As a piece of research, Citizens is everything court scholars have come to expect from these two authors: its innovative methodology and provocative findings contribute significantly to the literature on public opinion and the judiciary. . . . Like any good study, Citizens both advances the literature and serves as an impetus for future work."--Nicholas LaRowe, Journal of Politics

"I found this book to be an excellent example of cutting edge research that can be highly useful in the classroom. [This book is an] excellent example of the best of current judicial politics research."--Mark C. Miller, Political Psychology

Law and Politics Book Review
Citizens, Courts, and Confirmations is a significant contribution to the literature on judicial politics. Its findings are interesting and unique, and it provides a number of insights likely to prompt further studies of courts and the citizenry. . . . Any scholar or citizen interested in the interrelations of courts and public opinion should read Citizens, Courts, and Confirmations, and it will surely find its way on to the syllabi of numerous graduate courses on judicial politics.
— Richard L. Vining
Journal of Politics
As a piece of research, Citizens is everything court scholars have come to expect from these two authors: its innovative methodology and provocative findings contribute significantly to the literature on public opinion and the judiciary. . . . Like any good study, Citizens both advances the literature and serves as an impetus for future work.
— Nicholas LaRowe
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691139883
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 5/26/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 200
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author


James L. Gibson is the Sidney W. Souers Professor of Government at Washington University in St. Louis. His books include "Overcoming Apartheid: Can Truth Reconcile a Divided Nation?" Gregory A. Caldeira holds the Ann and Darrell Dreher Chair in Political Communication and Policy Thinking at Ohio State University.
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Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables ix
Preface xi

CHAPTER ONE: Introduction: The Public and Supreme Court Nominations 1
Changes in Attitudes toward Judicial Institutions 4
The Theory of Positivity Bias 7
Outlining the Chapters That Follow 14

CHAPTER TWO: Knowing about Courts 17
Assessing Public Information about Law and Courts 19
Empirical Evidence of Mass Ignorance 20
Discussion and Concluding Comments 34
Appendix 2.A: Survey Design, The 2001 Survey 35

CHAPTER THREE: The Popular Legitimacy of the United States Supreme Court 36
Theories of Institutional Legitimacy 38
Measuring Institutional Legitimacy 44
Accounting for Individual-Level Variability in Institutional Loyalty 49
Discussion 61

CHAPTER FOUR: Institutional Loyalty, Positivity Bias, and the Alito Nomination 63
The Confirmation of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court 66
The Positivity Theory Hypotheses 69
Assessments of the Confirmation Process 71
The Models 72
Determinants of Confirmation Preferences 85
Discussion and Concluding Comments 93

CHAPTER FIVE: A Dynamic Test of the Positivity Bias Hypothesis 96
Applying the Theory of Positivity Bias to Confirmations 97
Measuring Change in Attitudes toward the U.S. Supreme Court 98
The Model of Change in Institutional Support 103
Findings 110
Discussion and Concluding Comments 119
CHAPTER SIX: Concluding Thoughts, Theory, and Policy 121
Caveats, Puzzles, and Questions 125

APPENDIX A: Survey Design: The 2005 Survey 129
APPENDIX B: The Representativeness of the Panel Sample 131
APPENDIX C: The Supreme Court and the U.S. Presidential Election of 2000: Wounds, Self-Inflicted or Otherwise? 133
James L. Gibson, Gregory A. Caldeira, and Lester Kenyatta Spence The Theory of Institutional Legitimacy 135
Institutional Loyalty in the Aftermath of the Election 139
Views of the Court's Opinion in Bush v. Gore 144
Discussion and Concluding Comments 156
Appendix C.1: Survey Design 158
Appendix C.2: Measurement 159

References 163
Index 175

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