If You Want Folks to Accept Your Decision, Don’t Pretend That It Was Easy

In an article forthcoming in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies (Lay Judgments of Judicial Decisionmaking), Dan Simon and Nicholas Scurich asked study participants to evaluate the “acceptability,” or legitimacy, of various judicial decisions. Not surprisingly, they found that “the acceptability of the court’s decision was highly contingent on whether the court’s decision was congruent with the participant’s preferred outcome” and that participants were considerably more attentive to the court’s proffered reasoning when the decision conflicted with their preferred outcome.

But what I found most interesting was the study’s comparison of participants’ reactions to opinions “that provide unequivocal support for just one side of the dispute” with their reactions to opinions that “admit to the complexity and under-determinacy of the legal reasons en route to determining which of the vying positions is the stronger of the two.” More specifically, the authors found that “decisions that were accompanied by multiple two-sided reasons were rated most acceptable; decisions accompanied by multiple one-sided reasons were rated similarly acceptable to decisions that had no reasons at all; and decisions accompanied by a single reason received the lowest ratings of acceptability.” In short, participants were most likely to accept a decision as legitimate when the court acknowledged the difficulty of the underlying problem.

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1 Response

  1. Howard Wasserman says:

    I just saw a paper floating around SSRN the other day (which I unfortunately cannot find) arguing (based on the abstract) that the presence of a dissent undermines the force and acceptance of the majority opinion. But shouldn’t the presence of a dissent be the ultimate indicator that an issue is complicated?