Does personalization of officeholders undermine the legitimacy of the office? On perceptions of objectivity in legal decisionmaking

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Public legitimation of legal decisionmaking can be promoted through various strategies. We examine strategies of legitimation that are premised on personalizing the public image of legal agents. A personalized public administration emphasizes individual decisionmakers and seeks legitimacy through familiarity with the character, identity, and virtues of individual agents, whereas a non-personalized public administration projects an ethos of technocratic decisionmaking, seeking legitimacy through institutional objectivity and impartiality. We conducted an experiment to examine the efficacy of personalization strategies in the context of a politically charged legal affair: the criminal cases involving the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. We focus on people's perceived objectivity of the office of the Israeli attorney general (AG), given exposure (vs. no exposure) to different types of personal information about the AG, and while manipulating the salience of contrasting decisions concerning Netanyahu (indicting him on several counts of corruption versus exculpating him in others). We find that exposure to personal information about the AG decreased the perceived objectivity of his office, compared to no exposure to personal information, regardless of the type of information, decision salience, and respondents' political leanings. Our findings, therefore, support the legitimating potential of the non-personalization of decisionmakers, and show that it pertains to people positioned as both “losers” and “winners” with regard the political impact of the decision. The study further reflects the capacity of nonabstract real-world, real-time, analyses to shed light on the drivers of public trust in legal decisionmaking in politically polarized contexts—an issue of pertinence in many contemporary democracies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)833-850
Number of pages18
JournalRegulation and Governance
Volume17
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Regulation & Governance published by John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd.

Keywords

  • law
  • legitimacy
  • perceived objectivity
  • personalization
  • public administration

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