A quick glance at the national news shows that we live in an increasingly polarized society; people regularly disagree on political matters. While disagreement is expected, public contention over decisions made by the Supreme Court of Canada can have serious repercussions. “Public confidence in the judicial branch,” notes Dr. Erin Crandall, “is an essential component of its institutional legitimacy.”
An Associate Professor in Acadia’s Department of Politics, Dr. Crandall has just been been awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant to help understand the factors that determine public support of Canada’s highest court. Working with Dr. Andrea Lawlor of the University of King’s College (Western University), Crandall will design and administer public surveys to measure respondents’ reactions to specific court decisions and undertake a comprehensive analysis of the institutional and ideological factors that affect the support for the Court. The surveys - which will be made publicly accessible for future research - will be supplemented by respondent interviews and analysis that links public opinion to media coverage of prominent court cases. The goal is to determine where perceptions of judicial legitimacy come from and how they may be altered by the court’s actions.
“Maintaining public support is not a straightforward endeavor,” Crandall explains, “given that it is a court’s job to make decisions that will sometimes be contentious and even unpopular.” High-profile rights cases on issues such as prostitution, same-sex marriage, and medically assisted dying, illustrate just some of the politically salient, partisan, and divisive decisions that the Court is regularly tasked with making. It is therefore critical to “understand to what extent citizens will support the Court in the face of unfavorable judicial decisions.”
Acadia's Associate Vice-President Research & Dean of Graduate Studies, Dr. Anna Redden, was very excited by the news of the SSHRC funding. "Dr. Crandall is working on a topic of great significance for Canadian society," Redden noted, "and her work is indicative of the kind of innovative research that is undertaken in the social sciences at Acadia."