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  • Cited by 44
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
August 2020
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Book description

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.


'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

‘In Curbing the Court, Bartels and Johnston mark the path forward with an impressive array of theoretical, conceptual, and empirical insights.’

Christopher N. Krewson Source: American Politics

‘Bartels (George Washington Univ.) and Johnston (Duke Univ.) offer strong evidence that public opinion, long tied to judicial independence, may now work to limit the Supreme Court’s independence from the federal government's elective branches … Recommended.’

T. T. Gibson Source: Choice

‘Curbing the Court is an important and impressive statement challenging decades of scholars’ assumptions about the relationship between the Court and the public … It also adds a depth and a richness to our theoretical understanding of how the public relates to the Court.’

Amanda C. Bryan Source: Law and Politics Book Review

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