It’s political, like everything. If you look at the data, provided by a recent Pew Research Center study, clearly public opinion of the SC is declining in light of recent decisions about the Affordable Care Act, voting rights, campaign finance (Citizens United), and same-sex marriage.
No less, the Court’s approval rating is still higher than the Presidents (44%) and – obviously – significantly higher than Congress’ approval rating (-75%…just kidding. It’s 12%. No joke. Source: RealClearPolitics Polls)
Based on the results of the study, the steady decline appears to have begun shortly after the election of President Obama.
Initial thoughts about these survey results:
1. Ideologically – which is really all we have to work with in this survey – Conservatives are considerably more unhappy with the SC than Liberals are. Liberals are only marginally liking the Court more than they did in 2005 compared to Conservatives who really, really aren’t liking it. Long term (if a study spanning eight years can be qualified as long-term), Liberals’ approval of the Court has increased roughly 3 points in as many years, whereas Conservatives’ approval of the SC has declined 14 points. It’s no surprise given the majority of time this survey was conducted President Obama has been in office, he’s put two left-leaning Justices (Sotomayor and Kagan) on the bench, and the Court upheld the constitutionality of “Obamacare.”
2. Beyond what Conservatives and Liberals think of the Court, a bit more drilling-down into the different subgroups is needed to find out why overall public opinion is declining. One traditionally Liberal subgroup was briefly mentioned revealing a sharp decline (-17 points) in support of the Court among Blacks:
“Opinion of the court among blacks plummeted after the June decisions [Voting Rights & Affirmative Action in public education], which included the closely-watched voting rights case. In March, 61% of blacks regarded the court favorably, a number that dropped to 44% in July. This was among the lowest favorable ratings for the Court among blacks in polling dating to 1985.”
I’m sure more analysis of this data will come out in various follow-up stories. In the mean time, it being our favorite branch of government, we give it a 100% approval rating.