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Supreme Court approval dips with Democrats, Republicans equally unhappy, poll finds

  • July 28, 2021

particularly happy with the Supreme Court.

Americans’ approval of the nation’s highest court dipped to its lowest point in four years in a Gallup Poll on Wednesday, falling below 50% for the first time since 2017. Forty-nine percent approved of the job the justices are doing, down from 58% a year ago.

But at a time when the nation is divided over just about everything, the poll indicated the Supreme Court is viewed evenly among Democrats and Republicans – possibly reflecting the small number of high-profile decisions in the term that ended this month.

It hasn’t always been that way. 

“They have done a mixture of decisions that would be pleasing to liberals and conservatives and I think that may help,” said Jeffrey Jones, a senior editor at Gallup, who noted Chief Justice John Roberts in particular has seemed to try to steer the institution away from partisan matters such as last year’s presidential election. 

“Some of the major rulings they’ve had in recent years under his leadership have been kind of more down the middle and maybe unexpected,” Jones said.

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The poll, conducted July 6-21, found 51% of Republicans and the same share of Democrats approved of the court compared with 46% of independents. Those numbers looked a lot different in 2015, after the court legalized same-sex marriage and upheld Obamacare. That year, 76% of Democrats and only 18% of Republicans approved. 

By 2018, as President Donald Trump began nominating justices to the high court, the numbers nearly flipped and 72% of Republicans approved compared with 38% of Democrats.

With a string of unanimous or near-unanimous decisions, often decided on narrow grounds, the court’s most recent term that wrapped up this month seemed initially to upend expectations about how its new 6-3 conservative majority would handle pressing disputes about religious freedom, the Fourth Amendment and the Affordable Care Act.

Podcast:‘Roberts pulled it off’

But in the term’s final major rulings, the court’s six conservatives held together against its three liberals to impose significant new curbs on the 1965 Voting Rights Act and open a debate about whether campaign financial disclosure requirements might be subject to legal challenge under the First Amendment.

Trump’s false claims of election fraud and contentious immigration debates. Instead of deciding the most recent challenge to Obamacare on the merits, it concluded that the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue because they were not harmed by the 2010 law’s requirements. 

Those factors have stirred a debate over how to characterize the  latest term – the first with Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett on the court. Progressives argue the usual statistics don’t capture the rightward shift that has taken place in recent months. Others say the court didn’t go as far to the right as it could have. 

a push to increase the number of justices. President Joe Biden appointed a commission in April to study that and other ideas, such as term limits, greater transparency and an expansion of the lower federalcourts.

‘Think long and hard’:Justice Stephen Breyer pushes back on ‘court-packing’

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. 

If Roberts and others on the court have been engaged in a concerted effort to lower the political temperature, then that may prove more difficult in the new term that will begin in October. Already the justices have taken a case that anti-abortion groups hope will overturn Roe v. Wade, as well as a challenge to New York’s strict handgun laws.      

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