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The Rights Paradox: How Group Attitudes Shape U.S. Supreme Court Legitimacy, Michael A. Zilis

Reviewed by Jessica A. Schoenherr

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As Alexander Hamilton explains in Federalist No. 78, one of the U.S. Supreme Court's fundamental tasks is protecting minority rights. But the court does not do this on its own; endowed with “merely judgment,” it issues decisions and the other branches enforce them. Institutional legitimacy, or the public's belief that the Supreme Court has the authority to issue the rulings that it does, thus forms the foundation of the court's power, and the justices protect the court's legitimacy by adhering to norms and expectations surrounding their jobs, including issuing legally principled decisions and protecting minority rights. As public reaction to cases such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954) makes clear, however, the public does not always respond positively to decisions that favor minority rights. In The Rights Paradox, Michael A. Zilis asks whether the Supreme Court also risks its own legitimacy when it issues rulings that protect minority rights in the face of popular scorn. Zilis finds that it does, and that the court might be less willing to protect minority rights as a result.

Adding to an ongoing conversation about what affects the Supreme Court's legitimacy, Zilis suggests that group-based attitudes might be as fundamental to someone's feelings about the court as core democratic values or ideo

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