October 27, 2009


Gibson, James L. & Gregory A. Caldeira, Citizens, Courts, and Confirmation: Positivity Theory and the Judgments of the American People (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2009) (“Various law professors proclaimed in an advertisement in the New York Times that the Supreme Court had sacrificed a significant portion of its institutional legitimacy through its ruling in Bush v. Gore. It is difficult to imagine how a set of circumstances could arise that would constitute a greater threat to the legitimacy of the Supreme Court than its (so-called self-inflicted) involvement in settling the presidential election in Florida and therefore for the nation.” “Yet things are not always as they seem. It turns out that the available evidence is that the Court’s involvement is the election did not damage its legitimacy. . . . Many academic understandings of the impact of Bush v. Gore seem to be considerably off the mark.” “How is it that the United States Supreme Court avoided any harmful consequences of the election imbroglio? [A] proffered . . . answer: the theory of positivity bias. According to this theory . . . anything that causes people to pay attention to the courts—even controversies—winds up reinforcing institutional legitimacy through exposure to the legitimizing symbols associated with law and courts. The theory suggests a bias in favor of developing positive feelings for the institution, even during conflicts. While there are many elements of this theory, its central prediction is that legal controversies tend to reinforce judicial legitimacy by teaching the lesson that courts are different from the other institutions of the American democracy, and are therefore worthy of respect.” “Does the theory of positivity bias apply to confirmation hearings? No one knows, and it is therefore the purpose of this research to test the theory in that context. . Id. at 3. I guess you will have to read the book to find out the results and conclusions drawn from the authors’ research.).