The public now views the US Supreme Court as 'fundamentally partisan': report
In 2023, far-right Christian fundamentalists finally have the U.S. Supreme Court that they spent decades dreaming about. Roe v. Wade has been overturned, GOP-appointed justices have a 6-3 majority, and Justice Clarence Thomas has called for the High Court to “reconsider” landmark rulings that offered protections for contraception, same-sex marriage and gay rights.
But that doesn’t mean that the High Court’s 2023 edition is popular. Polls have been showing that public approval of the Court has sunk to historic lows. In the 2022 midterms, millions of voters expressed their support for abortion rights by voting for pro-choice Democrats in statewide races in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan and other swing states. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer aggressively campaigned on abortion rights and defeated her far-right anti-abortion MAGA challenger, Tudor Dixon, by 11 percent.
In an article published by The Hill on January 11, journalist Daniel De Visé emphasizes that big chunks of the U.S. population have come to view the High Court as an overtly partisan tool of the Republican Party.
“Never in recent history, perhaps, have so many Americans viewed the Supreme Court as fundamentally partisan,” De Visé reports. “Public approval of the nine-justice panel stands near historic lows. Declining faith in the institution seems rooted in a growing concern that the High Court is deciding cases on politics, rather than law. In one recent poll, a majority of Americans opined that Supreme Court justices let partisan views influence major rulings.”
Citing polling from Gallup and the Pew Research Center, De Visé notes how unpopular the U.S. Supreme Court has become. “More than half the nation,” De Visé observes, “disapproves of how the Court is doing its job.” Among Democrats, he adds, approval falls to 13 percent, according to Gallup.
“Public support for the High Court sank swiftly last summer in response to Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a landmark ruling that revoked a constitutional right to abortion,” De Visé notes. “The decision delighted many conservatives but defied a large majority of Americans who believe abortion should be legal. Yet, partisan anger runs deeper than Dobbs.”
Visé continues, “Liberals are fuming about a confluence of lucky timing and political maneuvering that enabled a Republican-controlled Senate to approve three conservative justices in four years, knocking the panel out of sync with the American public. Judged by last year’s opinions, the current Court is the most conservative in nearly a century, at a time when a majority of Americans are voting Democratic in most elections. Democrats say the Court no longer mirrors society, a disconnect that spans politics and religion.”
The U.S. Supreme Court is now dominated by Catholics, which in and of itself, isn’t a problem for Democrats. President Joe Biden, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Justice Sonia Sotomayor — a Democratic appointee of President Barack Obama — are all practicing Catholics. So is Sister Mary Scullion, a Catholic nun and activist from Philadelphia who has long been a champion of liberal and progressive causes.
For many Democratic voters, the problem with the U.S. Supreme Court is the type of Catholicism that Thomas, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Justice Samuel Alito and other far-right justices are promoting: a severe far-right form of Catholicism that has more in common with fundamentalist evangelicals than it does with the more nuanced Catholicism that Biden, Pelosi and Sotomayor embrace. Sotomayor was raised Catholic and is still Catholic, but she has made it clear that she believes in the separation of church and state — not turning the U.S. into a theocracy. And she was a dissenter in Dobbs.
“All six of the Court’s conservatives were raised Catholic, a faith that claims roughly one-fifth of the U.S. population,” De Visé notes.
Another thing that is hurting the Court’s credibility, according to De Visé, is the fact that Justice Thomas is married to a far-right conspiracy theorist: GOP activist Ginni Thomas, who has promoted the false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump.
Caroline Fredrickson, a visiting law professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., told The Hill, “The idea that you have the spouse of a Supreme Court justice advocating for overthrowing the government — sui generis, I think.”
Some democracies — Uruguay, for example — have term limits for Supreme Court justices. And according to legal scholars interviewed by The Hill, a time may come when justices on the Supreme Court are appointed for ten-year terms or 15-year terms rather than enjoying lifetime appointments. Frederickson noted that lifetime appointments give justices “a bizarrely monarchical sort of power.”
Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., told The Hill, “There’s a good chance that, sooner or later, we will get term limits for the Supreme Court. But later is more likely than sooner.”
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