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The Limits of Legitimacy: Dissenting Opinions, Media Coverage, and Public Responses to Supreme Court Decisions, Michael A. Zilis

Reviewed by Morgan L.w. Hazelton



The literature regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s influence on public opinion presents a puzzle: observational studies tend to not reap evidence that Supreme Court decisions increase support for a policy, while experimental designs often do. What accounts for this gap? In The Limits of Legitimacy, Michael A. Zilis makes a strong case that media coverage is the missing link that explains this disparity. First, he establishes that the number of dissenting justices has a significant effect on how reporters portray decisions. Then he provides evidence that media coverage, as a primary source of information for the public regarding the decisions, limits the ability of the Court to increase public opinion in spite of its relatively robust diffuse support.

The first part of the book explores factors that influence how the press covers decisions. Zilis offers the dissenus dynamics model: members of media who must satisfy the goals of simplicity, accuracy, and timeliness in crafting compelling reports on decisions rely on relatively basic characteristics of the majority opinion when framing their stories. Specifically, he considers the impact of the number of dissenters and ideological diversity among the justices voting in the majority. First, he provides a case study using a most-similar comparison of Lingle v. Chevron U.S.A. Inc. and Kelo

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