TJ Kimel

Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Political Science

First Advisor

Kirk A. Randazzo


As western democracies face challenges unseen since the Cold War ended, understanding the correlates of legitimacy for democratic institutions has grown in importance. While scholars have well-developed theories and empirical evidence of Supreme Court support, we know far less about state supreme court legitimacy. This is despite the fact that these courts hand down 100,000 legal decisions annually. Relying on an original survey conducted with participants in 46 states, I develop and test a theory that respondents rely on the Supreme Court as a cue when deciding whether they should extend legitimacy to state supreme courts they know next to nothing about. With this foundation, I examine several questions: First, how little do respondents know about state supreme courts and how does this ignorance influence the likelihood that they will extend legitimacy to these important institutions? Second, does the United States Supreme Court act as a heuristic for respondents who know little about their state supreme court when they are asked to decide whether they should extend legitimacy to state high courts?

Third, does the recency of a state supreme court election alter any reliance on the Supreme Court as a heuristic informing state supreme court legitimacy among those with low knowledge of state high courts?