British Journal of Political Science

Research Article

The Supreme Court and the US Presidential Election of 2000: Wounds, Self-Inflicted or Otherwise?

a1 Department of Political Science, Washington University in St Louis
a2 Department of Political Science, Ohio State University


The conventional wisdom about the US Supreme Court and the 2000 presidential election is that the Court wounded itself by participating in such a partisan dispute. By ‘wounded’ people mean that the institution lost some of its legitimacy. Evidence from our survey, conducted in early 2001, suggests little if any diminution of the Court’s legitimacy in the aftermath of Bush v. Gore, even among African Americans. We observe a relationship between evaluations of the opinion and institutional legitimacy, but the bulk of the causality seems to flow from loyalty to evaluations of the case, not vice versa. We argue that legitimacy frames perceptions of the Court opinion. Furthermore, increased awareness of the activities of the Court tends to reinforce legitimacy by exposing people to the powerful symbols of law. In 2000, legitimacy did indeed seem to provide a reservoir of good will that allowed the Court to weather the storm created by its involvement in Florida’s presidential election.


1 This project would not have been possible without the support of the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy, Washington University in St Louis, and The Ford Foundation (Grant Number 1015-0840). We are especially indebted to Steve Smith, Director of the Weidenbaum Center, for his encouragement of this work. An earlier version of this article was presented at the American Politics Workshop series at Columbia University. Professors Roger E. Hartley, Robert Erikson and David Epstein made most useful comments on an earlier version of this article. We also appreciate the research assistance of Eric Lomazoff and Hannah Pierce of the Russell Sage Foundation.