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Understandings of Justice: Institutional Legitimacy, Procedural Justice, and Political Tolerance

James L. Gibson
Law & Society Review
Vol. 23, No. 3 (1989), pp. 469-496
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Law and Society Association
DOI: 10.2307/3053830
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3053830
Page Count: 28
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Understandings of Justice: Institutional Legitimacy, Procedural Justice, and Political Tolerance
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Abstract

This research examines the linkages among institutional legitimacy, perceptions of procedural justice, and voluntary compliance with unpopular institutional decisions within the context of political intolerance and repression. Several questions are addressed, including: To what degree do judicial decisions contribute to the acceptance of unpopular political decisions? Do court decisions have a greater power to legitimize than the decisions of other political institutions? Are courts perceived as more procedurally fair than other political institutions? Do perceptions of procedural fairness-be it in a court or legislative institution-contribute to the efficacy of institutional decisions? The basic hypothesis of this research is that to the extent that an institution employs fair decisionmaking procedures, it is viewed as legitimate and citizens are more likely to comply with its decisions, even when they are unpopular. Based on an analysis of national survey data, I conclude that, although perceptions of institutional procedure have little impact on compliance, institutional legitimacy does seem to have some effect. The United States Supreme Court in particular seems to have some ability to elicit acceptance of public policies that are unpopular with the mass public. This effect is greatest among opinion leaders. I conclude with some observations about how these findings fit with the growing literature on procedural justice and with some thoughts about the implications of the findings for the protection of democratic liberty.

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