Media depictions of judicial decisions : a study of public response to the Bush v. Gore decision

Monson, Kristofer S.
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While lawyers and judges see legal decision making in terms of the application of legal norms to particular fact situations, the public, especially in politically sensitive cases, perceives judicial decisions as an exercise of power. This paper is an attempt to account for public response to a politically sensitive judicial decision: the Bush v. Gore decision that ended the 2000 election. It does so by analyzing a set of letters to the editor collected from representative, local newspapers. Having set out to determine what effect the decision itself had on the way in which the public discussed the election debate, the paper concludes that, while the public tends to make arguments about the election dispute based on specific details and anecdote. The contents the Court’s opinion had little impact on discussion of the issues; instead, the letters to the editor indicate that the Court’s decision making is an exercise of power rather than the result of reasoning. The paper concludes by suggesting that it is precisely because judges are constrained to discuss controversial issues in systematic terms that judicial decisions are useful to the political process