Less than half of Americans said they have either a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust in the judicial branch that is headed by the Supreme Court, according to new polling from Gallup. That’s the lowest that number has been since Gallup starting measuring the trend five decades ago and speaks to how damaging the court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade this past summer has been to its overall reputation with the public.
Just 47% of adults in Gallup’s survey expressed even some trust in the judicial branch of the federal government, a stunning 20-point drop over the last two years and a 7-point drop from last year. As Gallup’s Jeffrey M. Jones notes: “The judicial branch’s tarnished image contrasts with trust levels exceeding two-thirds in most years in Gallup’s trend that began in 1972.”
And it’s not just trust where the judicial branch is badly lagging its historic image. Just 4 in 10 Americans said they approve of the way the Supreme Court is handling its job, while 58% disapprove. That matches the lowest approval rating Gallup has ever recorded for the Supreme Court.
The court, simply put, is at its lowest ebb in terms of public opinion in the history of Gallup polling.
There is a direct line between the Roe decision and the court’s current image among the public. A year ago, half of Democrats said they had either a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the court. In the latest Gallup polling, that number stands at 25% – a drastic decline that marks the first time that less than half of Democrats have ever expressed a lack of faith in the court in Gallup’s polling.
More than 7 in 10 Democrats (71%) said the Supreme Court is “too conservative,” while just 18% said its ideology is “about right” and 9% said it is “too liberal.” Nearly half of independents (46%) said the court is “too conservative,” while a majority of Republicans (58%) said the court’s ideology is “about right.”
The politicization of the Supreme Court is something that Chief Justice John Roberts has long worried about – and hoped to avoid. “When you live in a polarized political environment, people tend to see everything in those terms,” Roberts said in 2019. “That’s not how we at the court function and the results in our cases do not suggest otherwise.”
The leak of a draft of the Roe decision – and the subsequent ruling, which ended the constitutional right to an abortion – seems to be, at least in the near term, the death knell to Roberts’ hopes of keeping the Supreme Court from being buffeted by the political winds. (Roberts called the leaking of a draft of the Roe decision “absolutely appalling.”)
Samuel Alito, a member of the Court’s conservative wing and the justice who wrote the decision that reversed Roe, pushed back on the criticism of the court earlier this week. “It goes without saying that everyone is free to express disagreement with our decisions and to criticize our reasoning as they see fit,” Alito told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. “But saying or implying that the court is becoming an illegitimate institution or questioning our integrity crosses an important line.”
The erosion of confidence in the court comes amid a broader decline in trust in virtually every major American institution. Gallup polling conducted over the summer found “significant declines” in trust in the 11 of the 16 major US institutions it tested, with not a single one of those institutions growing more trusted over the past year. In that survey, which was conducted before the Roe ruling, just 1 in 4 Americans expressed a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the Supreme Court – down 11 points from the previous year.
It is into that climate of distrust and discontent that the court now operates. The dream of keeping it above politics appears dead – at least for now.