The Legitimacy of the Supreme Court

January 26, 2022

~ 4 minutes read

Photo: Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

The Supreme Court is our nation’s legal arbiter on longstanding, polarizing issues. Decisions made by the nation’s highest court on divisive topics are never taken lightly, and its ideological composition can shape the future of the nation for decades, and even centuries.

It’s not surprising that perceptions of the Supreme Court’s legitimacy constantly shift as the composition of the court does. Over the past couple of years, discussions around court-packing have reemerged, prompting people across the political spectrum to discuss what makes the Supreme Court a legitimate institution, and whether it should be classified as such today.

So, how is each side talking about the current composition and legitimacy of the Supreme Court?

The bottom lineThe Supreme Court makes significant, impactful decisions about the freedoms and well-being of all Americans. Because of this, we are likely to excuse norm-breaking when it leads to the Court better reflecting our values. 

Here’s brief summary video of the Supreme Court justice confirmation process:


Background: In Trump’s four years as President, the Senate confirmed three Supreme Court justice nominees (Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett), compared to two justices confirmed during Obama’s eight years (Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan). Trump also appointed 54 appeals court judges in four years, compared to Obama’s 55 appointments in twice the time. (See this breakdown from Pew Research Center for more on presidential legacies of court nominations.)


After digging through conversations about the legitimacy of the Supreme Court on Twitter, we drafted a set of hypothetical conversations that represent the sentiments expressed by each side. These conversations can be used as a mindfulness tool to understand how the other side is seeing the issue and to reflect on each side’s arguments.

Trump’s judicial appointments: Court packing or job well done?

The bottom line: People on the right view Trump’s focus on the court as him fulfilling his elected duty, while people on the left see his efforts as politicizing the court system.

How the current Supreme Court was nominated

The bottom line: People on the left view the nomination of Barrett as a hypocritical violation of norms (with the implication that Garland should be in Gorsuch’s seat), while people on the right see it as a non-issue (because they had the number of votes in the Senate needed to confirm the nominee).


In the end, our view of the Supreme Court at present is often influenced by its current ideological composition. This isn’t necessarily hypocrisy — justices are appointed for life, and many of the Court’s decisions have implications lasting centuries. It’s natural that we feel insecure when the people making such weighty decisions don’t share our values.

And while most of us believe in pluralism in theory, it’s understandably harder to be tolerant of worldviews we disagree with when one has to win out.

When we encounter ideas about Supreme Court nominations or altering the rules around the Supreme Court (or keeping them the same), it’s helpful to keep in mind that the emotions the other side is feeling are emotions we ourselves might feel when our way of life is being threatened.

What do you think? Do you agree with one side, or do you fall somewhere in between? Give us feedback on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook, or by emailing