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Cambridge University Press
20 August 2020
What motivates political actors with diverging interests to respect the Supreme Court's authority? A popular answer is that the public serves as the guardian of judicial independence by punishing elected officials who undermine the justices. Curbing the Court challenges this claim, presenting a new theory of how we perceive the Supreme Court. Bartels and Johnston argue that, contrary to conventional wisdom, citizens are not principled defenders of the judiciary. Instead, they seek to limit the Court's power when it suits their political aims, and this inclination is heightened during times of sharp partisan polarization. Backed by a wealth of observational and experimental data, Bartels and Johnston push the conceptual, theoretical, and empirical boundaries of the study of public opinion of the courts. By connecting citizens to the strategic behavior of elites, this book offers fresh insights into the vulnerability of judicial institutions in an increasingly contentious era of American politics.
By:   Brandon L. Bartels (George Washington University Washington DC), Christopher D. Johnston (Duke University, North Carolina)
Imprint:   Cambridge University Press
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 227mm,  Width: 152mm,  Spine: 18mm
Weight:   470g
ISBN:   9781316638507
ISBN 10:   1316638502
Pages:   318
Publication Date:   20 August 2020
Audience:   Professional and scholarly ,  College/higher education ,  Undergraduate ,  Primary
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active
1. The guardians of judicial independence; 2. Theories of public support for court-curbing; 3. A deep dive into Supreme Court evaluation and support; 4. General policy disagreement and broadly targeted court-curbing; 5. Specific policy disagreement and support for court-curbing; 6. Partisan polarization and support for court-curbing; 7. Procedural perceptions and motivated reasoning; 8. Reconsidering the public foundations of judicial independence.

Brandon L. Bartels is Associate Professor of Political Science at George Washington University and co-editor of Making Law and Courts Research Relevant, published by Routledge. His research has appeared in journals such as the American Political Science Review and American Journal of Political Science. Christopher D. Johnston is Associate Professor of Political Science at Duke University. He is co-author of The Ambivalent Partisan, published by Oxford University Press, and Open Versus Closed: Personality, Identity, and the Politics of Redistribution, published by Cambridge University Press, both of which won the David O. Sears award.

Reviews for Curbing the Court: Why the Public Constrains Judicial Independence

'As Bartels and Johnston show in this careful analysis, partisan politics and policy preferences deeply influence how people view - and to what extent they support - the Supreme Court. In what is poised to be a seminal piece of scholarship, Bartels and Johnston deliver a timely and cautionary message: not even a nonpartisan institution like the Supreme Court is immune to the partisan mud-slinging of American politics.' Maya Sen, Harvard University 'Bartels and Johnston offer a thoughtful analysis of the politicization of the American judiciary and its consequences. This book challenges a wide variety of scholarship, suggesting new and provocative ways of understanding the nature of public opinion about the courts. The analyses here should interest anyone studying public opinion, judicial power, and American polarization.' Tom Clark, Emory University 'Curbing the Court challenges conventional wisdom, injects much-needed conceptual clarity, and offers a fresh theoretical perspective with sobering implications for the place of an independent judiciary in American politics. This book will reshape our understanding of the critical relationship between the Supreme Court and citizens - especially in a time of deep political polarization.' Georg Vanberg, Duke University 'In Curbing the Court, Bartels and Johnston seeks to reshape entirely our understanding of the relationship between the Court and its mass-public constituents. No serious scholar can ignore this book; it is a provocative work, one that deserves the closest scrutiny and analysis.' James Gibson, Washington University in St. Louis 'Exactly the right scholars have written exactly the right book at exactly the right time.' Marc Hetherington, UNC Chapel Hill 'In this timely work, Bartels and Johnston confirm the suspicion that in polarized times the public's increased appetite for court-curbing puts judicial independence at greater risk. An exceptional piece of scholarship of profound importance to scholars, judges, lawyers, lawmakers, policy analysts, and anyone interested in the future of the American judiciary.' Charles Gardner Geyh, Indiana University 'Bartels and Johnston's Curbing the Court sounds a disturbing cautionary note. Drawing on a wealth of evidence, the authors demonstrate that considerations based on momentary expedience, rather than on enduring principle, underlie how many Americans view the Supreme Court. The public's growing willingness to impose constraints, both big and small, on the Court raises serious questions regarding the vitality of judicial independence in the United States.' Jeffery Mondak, University of Illinois 'This is a timely work on a hotly contested scholarly debate. The authors have done a masterful job, and the contributions are many, including distinguishing types of Court curbing and legitimacy, bolstering arguments on the malleability of opinion and the dominance of policy ends over procedural means - not to mention showing that the Court is no more immune to polarization than the other branches.' Dino Christenson, Boston University 'As Bartels and Johnston show in this careful analysis, partisan politics and policy preferences deeply influence how people view - and to what extent they support - the Supreme Court. In what is poised to be a seminal piece of scholarship, Bartels and Johnston deliver a timely and cautionary message: not even a nonpartisan institution like the Supreme Court is immune to the partisan mud-slinging of American politics.' Maya Sen, Harvard University 'Bartels and Johnston offer a thoughtful analysis of the politicization of the American judiciary and its consequences. This book challenges a wide variety of scholarship, suggesting new and provocative ways of understanding the nature of public opinion about the courts. The analyses here should interest anyone studying public opinion, judicial power, and American polarization.' Tom Clark, Emory University 'Curbing the Court challenges conventional wisdom, injects much-needed conceptual clarity, and offers a fresh theoretical perspective with sobering implications for the place of an independent judiciary in American politics. This book will reshape our understanding of the critical relationship between the Supreme Court and citizens - especially in a time of deep political polarization.' Georg Vanberg, Duke University 'In Curbing the Court, Bartels and Johnston seeks to reshape entirely our understanding of the relationship between the Court and its mass-public constituents. No serious scholar can ignore this book; it is a provocative work, one that deserves the closest scrutiny and analysis.' James Gibson, Washington University in St. Louis 'Exactly the right scholars have written exactly the right book at exactly the right time.' Marc Hetherington, UNC Chapel Hill 'In this timely work, Bartels and Johnston confirm the suspicion that in polarized times the public's increased appetite for court-curbing puts judicial independence at greater risk. An exceptional piece of scholarship of profound importance to scholars, judges, lawyers, lawmakers, policy analysts, and anyone interested in the future of the American judiciary.' Charles Gardner Geyh, Indiana University 'Bartels and Johnston's Curbing the Court sounds a disturbing cautionary note. Drawing on a wealth of evidence, the authors demonstrate that considerations based on momentary expedience, rather than on enduring principle, underlie how many Americans view the Supreme Court. The public's growing willingness to impose constraints, both big and small, on the Court raises serious questions regarding the vitality of judicial independence in the United States.' Jeffery Mondak, University of Illinois 'This is a timely work on a hotly contested scholarly debate. The authors have done a masterful job, and the contributions are many, including distinguishing types of Court curbing and legitimacy, bolstering arguments on the malleability of opinion and the dominance of policy ends over procedural means - not to mention showing that the Court is no more immune to polarization than the other branches.' Dino Christenson, Boston University


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