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Citizens, Courts, and Confirmations

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

James L. Gibson
Gregory A. Caldeira
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Citizens, Courts, and Confirmations
    Book Description:

    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 Confirmationsexamines 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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3060-2
    Subjects: Political Science, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    James L. Gibson and Gregory A. Caldeira
    (pp. 1-16)

    The processes by which nominees are confirmed to a seat on the United States Supreme Court have changed rather dramatically over the past fifty years. It is not just that confirmation struggles are more disputatious today; perhaps more important is the expansion of the numbers of actors involved in such disputes. In the past, it was relatively rare for the mass public to play much of a role. Today, one of the crucial elements in confirmation strategies concerns how public opinion will be managed and manipulated. We do not gainsay that elite groups have great influence over whether a nominee...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Knowing about Courts
    (pp. 17-35)

    One of the old chestnuts of political science is that the American mass public is remarkably ignorant of courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. For instance, an oft-cited survey in 1989 reported that 71 percent of the Americans could not name a single member of the Supreme Court; in contrast, 54 percent of the same sample was able to name the judge on the television show “The People’s Court” (Judge Wapner; see Morin 1989). Similarly, a Zogby poll found that 77 percent of the American people were able to identify two of Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs; only 24 percent could...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Popular Legitimacy of the United States Supreme Court
    (pp. 36-62)

    The period of the early twenty-first century in the United States is judged by many to be an era of rather intense partisan and ideological polarization. From abortion rights to the war in Iraq, Democrats disagree with Republicans, just as liberals joust with conservatives. The primary colors of contemporary America seem to be red and blue. On a variety of important political issues, partisan and ideological differences are substantial and profound.¹

    Implicated in many of the issues dividing the Americans is the United States Supreme Court. For a variety of reasons, the Court often finds itself at the center of...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Institutional Loyalty, Positivity Bias, and the Alito Nomination
    (pp. 63-95)

    On January 31, 2006, Judge Samuel Alito was confirmed as the 115th justice of the United States Supreme Court. The vote in the Senate was 58 in favor, 42 opposed, which makes the Alito confirmation one of the more controversial and divisive in recent times.¹ Judge Alito is expected, and so far has proven, to be among the most conservative justices to sit on the Supreme Court in the modern era. With the country closely divided on so many ideological and partisan dimensions, the confirmation of Alito to a seat on the High Court may have vast and lasting political...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE A Dynamic Test of the Positivity Bias Hypothesis
    (pp. 96-120)

    As we observed earlier in this analysis, few studies of attitudes toward political institutions have adopted a dynamic perspective. Either implicitly or explicitly, most studies seem to presume that citizen beliefs about institutions are inculcated early in the life-cycle, perhaps even in adolescence, and change little over time (hence the great interest in research on political socialization—e.g., Caldeira 1977). Under this assumption, the question of change does not seem interesting.

    It seems to us, however, that the assumption of stasis is untenable. Bits and pieces of empirical evidence support our view, as in the changes at the aggregate level...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Concluding Thoughts, Theory, and Policy
    (pp. 121-128)

    In the research presented in this book, we have provided one of the most comprehensive investigations ever undertaken of public attitudes toward the process of confirming a nominee to the United States Supreme Court. Our overall framework is dynamic: We ask what role do preexisting attitudes toward the Court play in shaping perceptions and evaluations of confirmation politics, as well as consider the impact such politics have on the evolution of those attitudes. Since most extant research on public attitudes has adopted a static view, our research is perhaps the first comprehensive, national effort to understand how attitudes are updated...

  11. APPENDIX A Survey Design: The 2005 Survey
    (pp. 129-130)
  12. APPENDIX B The Representativeness of the Panel Sample
    (pp. 131-132)
  13. APPENDIX C The Supreme Court and the U.S. Presidential Election of 2000: WOUNDS, SELF-INFLICTED OR OTHERWISE?
    (pp. 133-162)
    James L. Gibson, Gregory A. Caldeira and Lester Kenyatta Spence
  14. References
    (pp. 163-174)
  15. Index
    (pp. 175-178)