Public opinion of Supreme Court reaches new low
Published: Friday, May 11, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
The Supreme Court has typically been one of the most publicly respected branches of the United States government, but a recent poll from The Pew Research Center reveals that its popularity among Americans has reached its lowest point in 25 years.
In terms of favorability of the Supreme Court, partisanship was not found to be a major factor for those surveyed. Instead, the poll shows that the trend is present across the political spectrum with favorability among Democrats and Independents at 52 percent and among Republicans at 56 percent.
“Things are driven by people’s ideological opinions more than by any other rational or objective view of the Court and its role,” said David Barnum, a political science professor at DePaul. “The polls show that more people are worried it is behaving in a political way and reaching decisions they do not like.”
Usually favorability depends on the party of the president holding office, his appointment of Supreme Court justices and whether rulings made by the court are more conservative or more liberal.
Throughout the time George W. Bush was in office, favorability of the Supreme Court among Democrats was substantially low, decreasing from 62 to 49 percent. Republicans, on the other hand, had a high of 80 percent initially, dropped to 64 percent briefly in 2005 and then increased to 73 percent towards the end of his office in 2007.
The trend for President Barack Obama, however, is different. Throughout his term so far, favorability of the Supreme Court by Democrats has not exceeded 65 percent.
“Famously, the president called out the court in a State of the Union address about the Citizens United case,” said Barnum. “Something as dramatic as that caused people to become less supportive.”
The ruling was almost as controversial as the current decision being made in regards to healthcare. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) deemed that campaign funds and political spending are protected by the First Amendment. This means that the government cannot limit how much money unions and corporations spend on influencing the public vote.
Another contributing factor to the Supreme Court’s low favorability could be that Americans are fed up with the government in general. While people are usually very quick to criticize Congress and the presidency, it may be the Supreme Court’s turn to share some of the blame.
“I believe the low favorability towards the Supreme Court is due to citizens’ attitude towards the government,” said sophomore Faizan Khan, a political science student at DePaul. “Voters from both sides of the spectrum are frustrated with the government and that is affecting the way people view the Supreme Court. Americans are dissatisfied with the way government is handling the country.”
The Supreme Court undoubtedly has a great amount of power with judicial review, a concept formed after the 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison. This power grants the Court the authority to determine whether laws are constitutional. The Court’s decision can only be overturned in a limited number of ways: The Supreme Court can reverse its decision on the earlier case, Congress can find a way to restructure the law so that it is deemed constitutional and pass it again or the states and Congress can make a constitutional amendment.
“The Supreme Court is subject to a similar system of checks and balances that our government is built upon,” said junior Bradley Accarino, a management student at DePaul. “Over the years the court has expanded its power through the cases it decides on; however, it is one of the few institutions that are highly cushioned from the power of politics.”
Whether Americans are starting to believe the Supreme Court is too influenced by politics, too powerful or merely unsatisfactory is unclear. The answer may simply be that people do not like their decisions.
“The justices rule on constitutionality, which is influenced more by ideology than political views. As a result, I would imagine many people have varying opinions of each decision determined by the Supreme Court regardless of political alignment,” said Accarino.
“This is confirmed in the statistics that show public opinion on both sides of the political spectrum have a less favorable opinion of the Supreme Court,” he said.