SUPREME IN JUSTICE - Adults in the United States say they lack trust in the federal government's judicial branch and nearly three-fifths disapprove of the way the U.S. Supreme Court is doing its job,
according to survey results released Thursday, as the negative ramifications of opinions issued this summer by the high court's reactionary majority continue to reverberate.
Just 47% of U.S. adults have "a great deal" or "a fair amount" of trust in the federal judiciary, Gallup found. "This represents a 20-percentage-point drop from two years ago, including seven points since last year," and is six points lower than the previous record low of 53%, the polling firm noted. "The judicial branch's current tarnished image contrasts with trust levels exceeding two-thirds in most years in Gallup's trend that began in 1972."
In addition to record low trust in the federal judiciary, the new poll, which was conducted September 1-16, found that a record high percentage of U.S. adults (58%) say they disapprove of how the Supreme Court is handling its job. A record-tying low (40%) say they approve.
During its last term, the high court's right-wing majority eliminated the constitutional right to abortion care, opening the door to further attacks on rights long safeguarded by the 14th Amendment's substantive due process clause; weakened gun restrictions; undermined the separation of church and state; eroded hard-won civil liberties; and curbed the authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, potentially gutting federal regulatory power in general.
In a separate indicator of how Americans perceive the Supreme Court—based on a June poll taken before the decision overturning Roe v. Wade was handed down but after a leaked draft opinion signaled the right-wing majority's intentions—Gallup found that confidence in the nation's chief judicial body had dropped to an all-time low, with just 25% of U.S. adults expressing "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the court, down from 36% the year before.
In its upcoming term, which begins Monday, the Supreme Court will take up several momentous cases. One of them, Moore v. Harper, threatens to give state legislatures, many of which are highly unrepresentative due to rampant map-rigging, virtually unchecked power to oversee and potentially skew federal elections, throwing the future of U.S. democracy into doubt.
Other cases on the docket could legalize racial gerrymandering, abolish affirmative action in university admissions, slash protections for Medicaid recipients, limit the federal government's ability to tackle water pollution, authorize bigots to discriminate on religious grounds, and more.
"The Republican justices who overruled Roe v. Wade are only getting started," Vox legal reporter Ian Millhiser warned earlier this week. The court's "new term could be even more consequential than its last one."
In its new survey, Gallup found that a record high percentage (42%) of U.S. adults believe the Supreme Court is "too conservative," up from 32% in 2020 and 20% in 2016.
During his four years in the White House, former President Donald Trump—who received nearly three million fewer votes than 2016 Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton—appointed three far-right justices to lifetime positions on the Supreme Court: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.
The trio joined ideological allies Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas to form the court's current right-wing supermajority.
Notably, Trump was able to nominate Gorsuch because then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to even allow a hearing on Merrick Garland after the current attorney general was nominated by then-President Barack Obama to replace the deceased conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016.
Trump nominated Barrett following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September 2020. Even though McConnell claimed that seating Garland would be inappropriate when Obama was "on his way out the door," he rushed through Barrett's confirmation after millions of mail-in ballots had already been cast in the election that President Joe Biden eventually won.
Earlier this month, Roberts suggested that, in the words of Vanity Fair's Eric Lutz, the Supreme Court's legitimacy is "inherent, absolute, and unconditional."
In his first public remarks since the end of the court's last term, the nation's chief justice told a gathering of judges and lawyers in Colorado Springs that "all of our opinions are open to criticism... But simply because people disagree with an opinion is not a basis for criticizing the legitimacy of the court."
While sharing Gallup's latest poll, civil rights attorney Sherrilyn Ifill tweeted: "That several SCOTUS justices see reports of widespread concerns about the court's legitimacy as a demonstration of transgressive behavior ("crosses a line") rather than as an invitation for institutional self-examination reinforces my concern that certain members of the court increasingly see the court as sitting above the democracy rather than within it."
"The justices have an obligation to steward the integrity of the institution," Ifill added. "Dismissing criticism out of hand is not the way."
The electorate's dwindling trust in the federal judiciary and strong disapproval of the Supreme Court's performance is being driven primarily by the shifting views of Democrats.
As Gallup noted, just 25% of Democrats have a "great deal" or "fair amount" of trust in the high court, down from 50% last year. Meanwhile, only 23% of Democrats approve of the work being done by the nation's chief judicial body, compared with 67% in 2016 and 49% in 2020.
Despite the recent spate of harmful rulings—with more likely to come—as well as mounting evidence that multiple sitting justices have lied under oath, Biden remains opposed to expanding the Supreme Court to restore balance, and he has also not embraced progressive calls to restrict the court's jurisdiction over certain issues.
(Kenny Stancil is a staff writer for Common Dreams where this article was featured.)