Knowing the Law
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
One important prerequisite to state compliance with higher-order legal rules is a convergence of public opinion on the existence and nature of those rules. We present original data from a nationally representative sample of U.S. residents that captures knowledge of higher-order legal norms, allowing us to explore the plausibility of the hypothesis that people have sufficient knowledge of higher-order law to enforce it. To do so, we polled U.S. residents about their positive and normative views on the existence of sixteen rights and government powers, experimentally manipulating whether the right or power flowed from constitutional or international law. We also asked respondents to state how certain they were about their positive knowledge. Our key findings are that knowledge of both constitutional and international law is limited and, relatedly, that there is not much agreement among respondents on what either requires. Yet constitutional knowledge is higher than international legal knowledge, especially for some provisions like the right to bear arms and the right to a jury trial. These findings underscore and provide an explanation for why coordinating to deter and punish constitutional violations is difficult.