Principles and the Public

How do Americans want judges to behave? Existing accounts of this question offer two seemingly contrasting perspectives: that the public wants judges to both impartially follow the law and make decisions that align with their policy preferences. To make sense of this puzzle, Principles and the Public: Elite Legal Rhetoric and Americans' Attitudes toward the Courts (coauthored with Albert H. Rivero) provides a new perspective on public evaluations of the American judiciary by studying how political elites discuss and how Americans view the legal principles -- such as respect for precedent or the original intent of the authors of the Constitution -- judges weigh when making decisions. We illustrate how these putatively apolitical legal principles are discussed and viewed in starkly partisan and ideological terms and show that Americans' attitudes toward these principles significantly shape evaluations of Court decisions, Supreme Court justices, and views of the judiciary as an institution.

The book provides a comprehensive account of the pervasive and ideological way in which political elites discuss legal principles by investigating a novel dataset of over 67,000 documents, emails, speeches, transcripts, and tweets from presidents, members of Congress, interest groups and PACs, print and broadcast news media, and state judicial candidates. We then field a series of original, nationally-representative surveys to show how this politicized discussion filters down to the American public, leading ordinary Americans to develop nuanced attitudes toward the use of these principles that are shaped by elite cues, personal politics, and political knowledge. Our book elucidates the interconnected nature of law and politics and serves as a timely resource to understand elite rhetoric and public attitudes about the judiciary in an era of polarized judicial nominations, politicized attacks on the courts, and ideological judicial policymaking.

In our working paper, "The American Public's Attitudes over How Judges Use Legal Principles to Make Decisions," we present some of our findings on the nature, source, and consequences of the American public's attitudes over the use of these principles.

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