Department or Program



The legitimacy of the United States Supreme Court has been consistently attacked and undermined by the public and political elites since the nation’s founding. Claims of Court illegitimacy stem from the Court’s countermajoritarian dilemma, which emerges when unelected justices use judicial review to invalidate legislation enacted or action taken by an electorally accountable Congress or executive, respectively. While scholars have examined the extent of the legitimacy conferred on the Court by the public and executive and legislative branches, they have not analyzed how claims of judicial illegitimacy have or have not resonated with the Supreme Court justices themselves. To what extent are justices preoccupied with the Court’s legitimacy? Do they perceive their institution’s position as precarious? If so, are there any ramifications on perceived judicial authority? This project analyzes these questions by examining whether and, if so, how attacks undermining Court legitimacy have been internalized by Supreme Court justices. Specifically, the following are analyzed: (1) the emergence of distinct constitutional interpretive approaches over time, which are understood as responses to the Court’s legitimacy crisis, (2) evidence of concern with the Court’s legitimacy in justices’ internal correspondence during decision making, (3) the use of rhetoric in abortion jurisprudence that speaks to the Court’s institutional legitimacy, and (4) the Chief Justices’ articulation of legitimacy concerns within their annual year-end reports on the federal judiciary. Ultimately, this project demonstrates that Supreme Court justices are concerned with the Court’s legitimacy.

Level of Access

Open Access

First Advisor

Engel, Steven

Date of Graduation

Spring 5-2016

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science

Number of Pages


Components of Thesis

1 pdf file

Open Access

Available to all.