Judicial Legitimacy and Cooperative Social Norms
Abstract: Economic growth depends not only on formal legal institutions but also on a foundation of cooperative social norms. Results from experimental economics demonstrate that cooperation is influenced by a belief that other players will cooperate and also by the support of cooperative behavior by respected authorities. Courts play an important part in both factors. Through enforcement of the law, courts not only mandate compliance with formal law by the parties to the lawsuit, but also create incentives for others to comply with the law. Less appreciated but just as important, courts serve as respected authority whose support of cooperative norms influence productive social and economic behavior. To achieve a position of respected authority, courts must be viewed as a legitimate government body. This paper will use legal theory to examine the factors that sustain the legitimacy of courts, focusing on independence, impartiality, and competence. The paper will also apply legitimacy theory to show the social values that make it more likely that a court will be respected within a country, as well as relying on recent empirical studies that evaluate the court’s legitimacy in various countries. Finally, the paper will access the depth of the legitimacy of the United States Supreme Court and consider the effects of political attacks on the Court since the New Deal.