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Law & Social Inquiry

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Department or Program


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Possessing neither purse nor sword, the unelected US Supreme Court relies on sustained public confidence in its institutional credibility to give force to its decisions. Previous research shows that Supreme Court justices are increasingly making public appearances to engage in a course of institutional maintenance to preserve its legitimacy. Amid a potential legitimacy crisis, justices seek to shore up the Court’s public support in these public appearances by emphasizing the apolitical nature of the Court and its decision making. The question for a growing body of literature is whether these attempts at institutional maintenance do, in fact, lead to higher support for the Court. Using an original survey experiment where we manipulate the identity of the justice giving legitimizing rhetoric, we find that respondents’ ideological preferences and female respondents’ level of gender identity do impact the effectiveness of such rhetoric. These results build on previous work by demonstrating the importance of justice identity in conditioning how different ideologues respond to the Court’s elite signals.


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© The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Bar Foundation

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