As the Washington political class waits for the U.S. Supreme Court to hand down decisions in such hotly contested cases as the challenge to the Affordable Care Act and the constitutionality of Arizona’s immigration law, there is evidence that the public at large is losing confidence in the Court as an impartial arbiter of justice. In a New York Times/CBS poll released last week, only 44 percent of Americans approved of the job the Court is doing — down from a highs in the mid-60s during the late 1980s.
This rating is even lower than the results in a Pew Research Poll conducted in May, which pegged the Court’s approval rating at 52 percent. The Pew poll, however, has shown an even more significant downward trend in the Court’s approval, from a recorded high of 80 percent in 1994.
In the past decade, the Court has been the subject of close scrutiny and sometimes harsh criticism, starting with its holding in Bush v. Gore, which ended the Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election and effectively made George W. Bush president. Since then, contentious confirmation battles of Court justices, as well as high profile decisions on such topics as late-term abortion, gay rights, campaign finance, and the death penalty, have increased scrutiny of the Court and the political impact of its decisions.
Of course, approval of the Court cannot be viewed in a vacuum. Americans’ confidence in all public institutions, including Congress and the presidency, have been in steady decline for years. But the Court has long prided itself on being above the fray. It appears, however, that those days are ending.