According to a recent survey by the Gallup polling firm, more Americans (46 percent) disapprove of the way the U.S. Supreme Court is handling its job than approve (43 percent).
This marks only the second time since Gallup began asking the question in 2000 that the High Court has had a negative favorability rating. The other time was in June 2005. (Interestingly, the 2004-05 term featured few high-visibility, controversial cases, although the Court was criticized by many for its decision in favor of giving government broad eminent domain powers in Kelo v. City of New London.)
Digging down into the details of the recent poll, approval of the Court by Republicans continues to be extremely low, with only 31 percent rating it favorably. That’s a slight tick up from the 29 percent with a positive view last year, shortly after the Court upheld President Obama’s signature health care reform plan, but down significantly from the 75 percent favorability GOPers gave the Court in 2006.
A fall in Republican support for Chief Justice John Roberts mirrors the drop in approval for the Court as a whole, with only 33 percent holding a favorable opinion, down from the 67 percent who approved during Roberts’ Senate confirmation hearings in 2005. Clearly, Roberts’ authorship of the majority opinion last year upholding the Affordable Care Act has significantly damaged his reputation in conservative circles.
Democrats continue to hold the Court in higher esteem, with 58 percent approving — although that is a drop from the 68 percent approval shortly after last year’s health care decision. In a sign that public approbation can be fleeting, only 35 percent of Democrats approve of the job John Roberts is doing now, after he recently dissented from the high-profile decision invalidating part of the Defense of Marriage Act and authored an opinion striking down a key section of the Voting Rights Act, compared to his 68 percent approval from Democrats last year, when he was the key vote to affirm the constitutionality of health care reform.
The trends in this poll mirror other recent surveys that have shown the Court has a public image problem. In a Rasmussen Reports poll at the end of June, 28 percent said the Court was doing a good or excellent job, while 30 percent gave it poor marks and 39 percent said it was only fair.
A Pew Research Center poll released at the end of July gave the Court slightly better news, with 48 percent favorable versus 38 percent unfavorable — but this is the first time the Court’s approval has been below 50 percent in the three decades that Pew has conducted its poll.
With the American political scene becoming increasingly polarized and approval ratings for government institutions generally low and particularly abysmal for the U.S. Congress, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Supreme Court isn’t immune from the public’s scorn. The Court has weighed in on a number of controversial issues lately — gay marriage, voting rights, health care reform, police searches, affirmative action, and immigration — and inevitably, one side of the political spectrum or the other (and sometimes both) have been enraged by the decision. It seems they’re letting pollsters know exactly how they feel.