Public Support for the Supreme Court
Whatever may be the merits or demerits of a poll-driven executive or a polldriven legislature, the specter of a poll-driven judiciary is not an appealing one. So the search for greater public trust and confidence in the judiciary must be pursued consistently with the idea of judicial independence.
– Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist1
Chief Justice Rehnquist raises an important issue. Many scholars believe that while the members of the Court need not rely on public support in the same way as legislators or other elected officials, the specter of public disapproval apparently still looms large. Why should the justices care about public support if they are appointed to life tenured positions, cannot be overturned by any higher court, and are not likely to pursue higher office? The most important reason they should care is that public trust and confidence are precious political resources. Recall Felix Frankfurter's words in Baker v. Carr from Chapter 1. In that case, he said, “The Court's authority–possessed of neither the purse nor the sword–ultimately rests on sustained public confidence in its moral sanction.” Public confidence can harbor the institution from attacks initiated by other branches of government and may also increase the likelihood of compliance with its decisions. But, the question remains as to whether popular decisions increase confidence in the Court and whether unpopular decisions decrease public confidence.
The discussion and results in this chapter are drawn from Hoekstra (2000).____________________