The Supreme Court has historically garnered the most respect among the three arms of the U.S. federal government. And if the American public has lost some faith in all three branches recently, it is the Supreme Court that has seen the most erosion.
In 2022, 25% of American people, down from 36% last year and five percent lower than the last record low set in 2014, say they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the Supreme Court, according to Gallup polling. A recent wave of contentious rulings is often cited by court observers as the cause of the decline.
Currently, Supreme Court justices are responding to inquiries about the reliability of their institution, despite their historical reluctance to make public comments on such topics.
The Supreme Court has recently made several difficult judgments, and Justice Elena Kagan, who frequently finds herself in the minority, has issued a warning that these decisions have been politically driven and could harm the court’s reputation with the American public. In a speech at Northwestern University School of Law, Kagan said, “There is a problem — and there should be a problem — when courts become extensions of the political system, when people regard them as extensions of the political system, when people see them as seeking solely to force personal opinions on a society regardless of the law.”
External SCOTUS authorities concur. Sherif Girgis, a teacher at Notre Dame Legal School and former law clerk to conservative Justice Samuel Alito, stated that the legitimacy of the court depends on whether the general public perceives the court as practicing law rather than engaging in politics.
The court is also experiencing internal strife as a result of a draft of its historic Roe v. Wade judgment being made public in May. According to The Wall Street Journal, Justice Neil Gorsuch stated at a legal conference last week that it is “terribly vital” to find out who leaked the draft ruling. Just after the draft’s release, Chief Justice John Roberts commanded a probe into the leak. The investigation’s status has not been updated by the court.
At a recent conference for judges in Colorado, Roberts himself offered his opinion on the current controversy surrounding the court, saying, “So obviously anybody can say whatever they want, and they are absolutely allowed to criticize the Supreme Court. Additionally, they are free to claim that the authenticity is in doubt. However, I fail to see how opposing viewpoints and the authority of the court are related.”
According to historian Rachel Shelden, a partisan court is hardly a brand-new phenomenon. Americans recognized the court’s intense partisanship in the 19th century, and presidents chose their members of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) primarily on ideology and partisanship, not legal competence, Shelden wrote just two years ago. Shelden says that the power the court presently wields is the main distinction between the two times. “Americans may begin to demand that Congress reclaim some of the constitutional power it has ceded to the judicial branch in our current climate of great polarization and once again embrace a more politicized court.”