Penny J. White


Justice John Paul Stevens once noted that "[i]t is the confidence in the men and women who administer justice that is the true backbone of the rule of law." This confidence gives legitimacy to courts at every level. But how is such confidence to be achieved and maintained? How do we instill trust and confidence in the judiciary in those members of the public with little knowledge of the court system or those who attain their knowledge from questionable sources? What kinds of information can be used to counterbalance the denigrating effect of judicial campaigns? This Article suggests that judicial performance evaluations, which meaningfully measure the traits that are essential to good judging, can serve to better inform the public of the role of the judiciary and to promote public trust and confidence in the courts. The purpose of this Article is not to distill all of the complex factors that enter into measuring the public's perception of state courts. Rather, its purpose is to consider how institutional legitimacy is likely affected by various cues and signals that the public receives about the judiciary. This Article also considers whether critically designed, appropriately administered, and widely disseminated judicial performance evaluations might supplement misleading cues. To that end, following an introductory section on institutional legitimacy, Section III discusses the effects of knowledge, goodwill, and judicial campaigns on the public's perception of the judiciary. Section IV focuses on how the tactics used by judicial campaigns send cues that undermine the public's trust in the judiciary. The last section discusses how more meaningful cues - particularly the results of valid judicial performance evaluation programs - can be used to inform the public and legitimize the judiciary.

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