How do Americans Feel About the United States Supreme Court?

Recent surveys show that substantial numbers of Americans have a negative view of the United States Supreme Court.  This is important because so much of the Court’s vitality stems from the extent to which people view it as a credible institution.

A report from the Pew Research Center that was issued in July, 2023, noted that as of that time, fewer than half of Americans (44%) viewed the Court favorably, while the majority of Americans (54%), viewed it unfavorably.  Interestingly, as of April, 2023, about half of Americans had a favorable view of the Court.  Thus, the Court’s favorability rating dropped significantly in a short period of time.  This drop was even more noteworthy in light of other Pew data showing that the Court’s favorability rating had declined 26 points since 2020.  Pew has been collecting polling data on the Court since 1987.  The recent surveys represented the first time that the public’s view of the Court was significantly more negative than positive.

Other survey data paints a similarly negative picture.  A Marquette Law School national survey conducted earlier this year found that 40% of Americans approved of the Court, whereas 60% disapproved.  The Marquette survey noted that approval of the Court has remained below 50% in surveys conducted since March 2022, when its approval rating was at 54%.  According to the Marquette data, the Court’s approval rating was up from a low point of 38% in July, 2022, but had declined from its July 2023 high of 45%.

Marquette also collected data on individual decisions.  Notably, 67% of Americans opposed the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.  Overall, 25% of all adults surveyed had a great deal of confidence in the Court, whereas 35% had some confidence and 40% had little to no confidence.  Since 2019, there was  also an increase in the percentage of the public who believed that the Court’s decisions were politically motivated, increasing from 35% in 2019 to 54% in 2024. Marquette also collected data on how the public views individual Justices.  The lowest ratings in this regard were Clarence Thomas (unfavorable rating of 33%); Brett Kavanaugh (unfavorable rating of 30%); and Amy Coney-Barrett (unfavorable rating of 24%).  (In case anyone is wondering, Justice Kagan had the lowest “unfavorable” rating at 9%.)

Overall, the Court’s favorability ratings are worsening with the passage of time.  This is significant because so much of the Court’s ability to function in a meaningful way stems from its credibility.  If the Court is not viewed as a credible institution, most Americans will simply lose respect for it and its decisions.  Undoubtedly, some, perhaps most, of the current Justices will dismiss these survey findings, taking the view that Court’s functioning does not depend upon popularity contests.  This is, however, an extremely short-sighted view of such findings.  The Supreme Court is the most obvious symbol of our justice system.  Everything it does reflects on the system as a whole.  If the Court is not respected and trusted by the majority of Americans, what does that say for our system as a whole?  Will Americans have faith in our courts and our system to produce just results?  All of the recent issues concerning ethics at the Court and, in particular, gifts accepted by certain Justices, certainly does not help.

The data also raises issues concerning whether and to what extent to Supreme Court is simply out of step with the Nation as a whole.  While it is true that the Court needs to respect precedent and render decisions accordingly, it is much more than a legal laboratory.  Its decisions affect every American in very real and profound ways.  There is a human side to what the Court does, and this should not be allowed to become totally lost in cold legal principles and attorney argument.  Decades ago, Robert Bork (remember him?) was denied confirmation, in part, because he failed to see the human side and human effect of what the Court does.  The Senators then sitting on the Judiciary Committee understood the importance of this.  Has this understanding disappeared?  This Court seems to think so.

James S. Friedman, Esq., is a criminal defense attorney in New Jersey, representing defendants in the New Jersey Superior Court in all counties, all New Jersey municipal courts, and the United States District Court in Newark, Trenton and Camden, New Jersey.  Mr. Friedman also represents defendants in the state and federal courts located in Manhattan and Brooklyn.  If you have charges in one of these courts, contact Mr. Friedman to start mapping out your defense.






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