Book Review: Legacy and Legitimacy: Black Americans and the Supreme Court

TITLE: Legacy And Legitimacy SUBTITLE: Black Americans And The Supreme Court AUTHORS: Rosalee A. Clawson and Eric N. Waltenburg PUBLICATION DATE: December 2008 PUBLISHER: Temple University Press PAGE COUNT: 224 pp.
ISBN: 978-1-59213-903-3
PRICE: $23.95
The U. S. Supreme Court’s Warren-era revolution in the areas of civil, individual, and privacy rights is the focus of this historical and statistical treatise which combines sociology with survey analysis in a successful effort to prove that Brown v. Board of Education and related Supreme Court decisons of the 1950s and 1960s have created a well of good will toward the Court among African-Americans, a reservoir that appears deep enough to endure the high court’s much more tepid support for black political and legal interests since the 1970s. The U.S. Supreme Court therefore enjoys a legacy of legitimacy among black Americans, according to Clawson and Waltenburg, both of whom are political science professors at Purdue.

The concept of political legitimacy as a stabilizing force is central to the book’s theme and is particularly important in a pluralist democracy such as the U.S., where constituents regularly lodge competing demands. As these demands are met, winners and losers are created, placing stresses upon the political system. As these stresses accrue, the organizational vitality of the system is challenged, as is the support of the constituents for that system. Offsetting these challenges is the level of legitimacy maintained by the pluralist democracy’s institutions.

The authors seek to measure, through a series of extended surveys and intricate statistical analysis, the one institution of government which most effectively regulates pluralist conflicts and rallies support for the regime. Relative to other institutions, the authors conclude, the Supreme Court has the greatest capacity to legitimize policies. And, consistent with Legitimacy Theory, this capacity likely stems from its institutional credibility, as the authors note the Court’s remarkably high and stable levels of abstract mass approval compared with the presidency and Congress. Recommended for academic libraries.

Philip Y. Blue, New York State Supreme Court Criminal Branch Law Library, First Judicial District, New York, NY

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