Public's Conditional Response to Supreme Court Decisions

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Review & Summary: The article that I am reviewing is “ The Public’s Conditional Response to Supreme Court Decisions” (Johnson & Martin 1998). This article specifically speaks to answer, whether the Court affects public attitudes when it makes decisions or initial rulings on a salient issue or subsequent decisions on the same issue. Johnson allows us to investigate the effect of the Supreme Court on public opinion, which offers the conditional response hypothesis based on the theory of Supreme Court legitimacy, and a micro-level social-psychological theory of attitude formation through his writing. To test this prediction Johnson analyzes public opinion data before and after the Supreme Court ruled in a highly visible abortion case (Roe v. Wade 1973), along with three key capital punishment rulings. (Furman v. Georgia 1972, Gregg v. Georgia 1976 & McCleskey v. Kemp 1987) When the Supreme Court made decisions, the public simply accepted them as legitimate. The reasoning behind this is simply because the Supreme Court is seen as the ultimate arbiter of the law. The model used by both Johnson and Martin (1998) is based upon two different theories. The first, since the public generally views the Court as a highly credible institution, individuals are more likely to clearly elaborate their attitudes toward an issue after a ruling. When the court makes its first major decision on a particular, the structure of public opinion changes in a manner consistent with the structural response hypothesis. Even if the individuals disagree with a particular decision, their opinion on that issue will continue to grow stronger for or against the Court’s policy choice. The second part of the model is based upon the context elaboration likelihood. This argues that opinions about the Court’s policy choices are unlikely to change once they are set.
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