How Division among Justices Shapes the Supreme Court’s Public ImageMichael F. Salamone
Like our divided nation, the Supreme Court is polarized. But does a split among Supreme Court justices—particularly when it occurs along ideological lines—hurt public perception and the Court’s ability to muster popular support for its rulings? Michael Salamone’s Perceptions of a Polarized Court offers the first comprehensive, empirical analysis of how divisiveness affects the legitimacy of the Court’s decisions.
Salamone looks specifically at the Roberts Court years—which are characterized by unprecedented ideological and partisan polarization among the justices—to evaluate the public consequences of divided Supreme Court rulings. He also analyzes both the media’s treatment of Supreme Court decisions and public opinion toward the Court’s rulings to show how public acceptance is (or is not) affected.
Salamone contends that judicial polarization has had an impact on the manner in which journalists report on the Supreme Court. However, contrary to expectation, Court dissent may help secure public support by tapping into core democratic values.
“ In this engaging and timely book, Salamone examines how the current state of partisan polarization has filtered into the United States Supreme Court. Using a multi-method approach along with numerous examples and observations, he examines partisan polarization in the behavior of the Justices, how the media covers the Supreme Court, and whether this affects public perceptions of the Court. The findings are both important and persuasive.”
—Valerie Hoekstra, Arizona State University
“Perceptions of a Polarized Court is a highly pioneering research report that innovatively combines three important aspects of U.S. Supreme Court politics—hyper-polarization within the Court itself, the role of the mass media in reporting on or exposing these divisions, and then, finally, the question of whether internal court politics has undermined the institution’s legitimacy within the eyes of the American people. Some of Professor Salamone’s findings are expected—for instance, conflict on the Court is more likely than consensus to attract the attention of the mass media. Other findings, however, are unexpected—divided rulings by the Court do not undermine the institution’s support. The unstated conclusion of this fascinating study may well be that, when it comes to judicial politics, the American people are legal realists like the rest of us, and are perhaps not quite the uninformed and unthinking dolts they are often portrayed to be. This valuable contribution to understanding American politics deserves to be read by all.”
—James Gibson, Sidney W. Souers Professor of Government at Washington University in St. Louis
"Perceptions of a Polarized Court represents an important advance in our understanding of the relationship between the Supreme Court and public opinion, by making prominent the role of media coverage as an intervening factor and illuminating the conditional effect of issue salience on the Court’s ability to affect public opinion. This book is a must-read for all who are interested in the role of the Supreme Court in the American political system and in American life more generally."
— Perspectives on Politics
"(T)he premise of Perceptions is absolutely correct. We live in a hyperpolarized age, in which division among the justices is more apparent than ever before. Salamone’s rigorous analysis of the impact of such division on news coverage, framing, and the Supreme Court’s public image could not have come at a more critical time."
— Political Science Quarterly
"In Perceptions of a Polarized Court , Michael Salamone examines whether newspapers cover Supreme Court decisions in a manner that is necessary for the conventional wisdom to hold and then uses a survey experiment to test whether majority coalition size actually affects how people respond to Court decisions. The results—that the media behave as expected but the public do not—are intriguing and make a substantial contribution to the literature on public opinion regarding the Supreme Court as well as the literature on judicial decision-making.... I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in either how the public responds to Supreme Court decisions or how the justices might consider the public when making their decisions."
— Public Opinion Quarter