For the first time in nearly three decades that the Pew polling organization has been asking the question, fewer than 50 percent of Americans express approval of the job the U.S. Supreme Court is doing.
I’m neither shocked nor horrified. If they’d asked me, I might have given a thumbs down. And, not wanting to hype this, there are still slightly more approvers (48 percent) than disapprovers (38 percent) of the Supreme Court. It’s just that public confidence in the court has traditionally survived the ups and downs of presidential approval ratings and the recent extremely low approval ratings of Congress, which are now at all-time lows in the teens.
For the record, President Obama’s approval/disapproval have been hovering fairly close together, but in three out of four of the fresh-out-today polls aggregated by Real Clear Politics, his disapprovers outnumber his approvers, although his approval has been above 50 percent as recently as early this year.
I’m old enough to remember “Impeach Earl Warren” bumper stickers, but that idea never went anywhere. Some liberals may never forgive Bush v. Gore, and some conservatives will never stop trying to reverse Roe v. Wade. But for most of my life, the legitimacy of the Supreme Court has sailed a bit above normal politics, although, to be honest, there have always been big partisan swings based on the most recent rulings.
During the George W. Bush years, Republicans liked the Supremes better than Democrats in general did. The court’s ruling upholding Obamacare was a blow to that pattern and in one of Pew’s polls right after the Obamacare ruling, a huge partisan gap opened up between high (64 percent) approval of the court by Dems and low (38 percent) approval by Repubs. The most recent batch of rulings included some that liberals disliked (the gutting of the Voting Rights Act) and some that conservatives disliked (striking down key portions of the Defense of Marriage Act), and the latest poll finds the court in bipartisan trouble with Democrats approving the court’s work by just over 50 percent, Republicans at 48 and independents casting the deciding vote with just 47 percent approval.
The history of the court’s approval rating and the partisan breakdowns are detailed by Pew here.
In an email exchange with me Wednesday, U of M political scientist Larry Jacobs called the dip in confidence in leading institutions, in all branches of government and in the private sector, “understandable.”