Freedom of a speech : the speeches of the Warren Court Justices and the legitimacy of the Supreme Court

Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Political Science

Content Description

1 online resource (iii, 361 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Julie Novkov

Committee Members

Patricia Strach, Bruce Miroff


Legitimacy, Supreme Court, Warren, Judges, Speeches, addresses, etc., American

Subject Categories

Law | Political Science


While justices of the U.S. Supreme Court routinely claim they do not deliver speeches to audiences outside the Court, or that the content of their remarks is unimportant, scholars have long recognized that the justices speak frequently off the bench. Despite this recognition, studies of judicial speech view it largely as a potential transgression of legal norms, risking the images of neutrality and independence that are widely seen as the primary bases of the Court’s legitimacy; few studies have explored judicial speech in any detail, and surprisingly little is known about the actual content of the justices’ speeches. In this dissertation, I pose two primary questions: first, what do the justices say, and second, what does the content of judicial speech tell us about institutional legitimacy? Reviewing approximately 400 speeches by the justices of the Warren Court (1953–1969), I find the justices’ speeches generally appear as any one of four primary themes: advocating future policy and signaling outside actors to prepare for implementation, in advance of a major ruling by the Court; defending the Court’s rulings on the basis of projecting favorable images of democracy abroad; defending the Court’s rulings on the basis of constitutional claims and understandings and defending against broader attacks on judicial authority, such as court-curbing legislation; and last, articulating idealized visions of democracy and future politics. Further, I find evidence of these themes in the speeches of the justices of the Roberts Court in 2012. Contrary to the judicial “lockjaw” conception of speech as a threat to neutrality and legitimacy, I find judicial speech, while shaped by legal norms, frequently draws upon values and structures associated with democracy, enabling the justices to rework and construct political narratives about the Court and its rulings in speeches that attend to the Court’s institutional legitimacy.

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