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CNN  — 

The Supreme Court’s obliteration of nearly 50 years of abortion rights for women, along with its new, tougher stance on gun control and other politically charged rulings, have stained the image of an impartial judiciary.

There is no ignoring that the public has found it increasingly difficult to think of life-appointed federal judges as neutral decision-makers.

Yet the Supreme Court’s conservative majority has largely responded with distance and denial. In the weeks since their contentious late June decisions, the justices have demonstrated a lack of awareness about the public concern and appeared even more disconnected, gravitating to like-minded audiences and speaking at closed venues.

The pattern emerges as another annual session will begin in less than a month. The justices will take up challenges to voting rights and racial affirmative action and a clash between religious interests and LGBTQ protection.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in an appearance at a judicial conference in Colorado on Friday, seemed willfully oblivious to why the public has turned on the court.

“So obviously people can say what they want, and they are certainly free to criticize the Supreme Court and if they want to say that its legitimacy is in question, they are free to do so,” he said, “but I don’t understand the connection between opinions that people disagree with and the legitimacy of the court.”

But people have not been questioning the court’s legitimacy simply because they disagree with opinions. They see that the justices have broken from their usual adherence to precedent, offered dubious rationales and voted in what appears to be partisan lockstep. Polls show increased political polarization in responses to the court.

The most consequential rulings by the Republican-appointed majority favor longstanding GOP priorities, such as diminishment of reproductive rights, expansion of the Second Amendment and limits on federal regulatory authority. The June decision reversing Roe v. Wade was possible only because of the addition in 2020 of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the third appointee of former GOP President Donald Trump, who had vowed to name only justices who would reverse the 1973 precedent.

Roberts dissented from the opinion overturning Roe, although he voted with the conservative majority to uphold the disputed Mississippi ban on abortions after 15 weeks. He wrote that the June decision amounted to “a serious jolt to the legal system” – which is, in fact, why the public concern about the court’s legitimacy goes beyond mere disagreements.

The justices who made up the narrow majority in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization have withdrawn from the wider public eye this summer.

Justice Samuel Alito, the author of the Dobbs opinion, flew to Rome for a July event for the University of Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Liberty Initiative. In a video released a week later, he referred to the opinion reversing Roe – but only sarcastically.

“I had the honor this term of writing, I think, the only Supreme Court decision in the history of that institution that has been lambasted by a whole string of foreign leaders,” Alito said. “One of these was former Prime Minister Boris Johnson – but he paid the price.” (Alito’s quip referred to Johnson’s resignation this summer after a series of UK scandals.)

Justice Brett Kavanaugh met only with select judges at judicial conferences in Rapid City, South Dakota, and Louisville, Kentucky.

Barrett sat for friendly questions at an invitation-only business conference in Big Sky, Montana. She has gravitated toward GOP-oriented settings; in her early months on the bench, she appeared at a celebration of the University of Louisville’s Mitch McConnell Center and at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California.

The justices who dissented from Roe have appeared at some public events this summer. Perhaps the most relevant remarks, at a 9t