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Law & the Courts

The Public Still Isn’t Clamoring for Changes to the Supreme Court

(SeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images)

One of the tenuous arguments made for Democrats packing the Supreme Court is that the Court faces a “legitimacy crisis.” As Ramesh Ponnuru noted back in October, however, while the Court may have lost legitimacy in the eyes of left-wing activists as it gained more conservative justices, the voters appear to be just fine with the Court:

In 2015 — before the nominations of Garland, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh — the Supreme Court had a net approval rating of negative 5%, according to Gallup. In early September of this year, its net approval was a positive 10%. It is more popular than it was for nearly the entirety of Obama’s time in office. The Pew Research Center’s polling finds the same trend: The Supreme Court’s reputation has improved during the legitimacy panic of the last five years. Even Democrats view it more favorably now.

By contrast, polling of Court-packing during the fall campaign found it to be resoundingly unpopular across demographic, ideological, and partisan segments of the electorate, and Republicans hammering the issue appears to have played a role in holding Senate seats in Maine, Iowa, and North Carolina. Of course, polls go up and they go down with the Court, as with any institution. But the latest YouGov poll continues to show a positive approval rating for the Court (41 percent to 37 percent), with the strongest support coming from Democrats, who approve the job the Court is doing by 14 points (48 percent to 34 percent). The poll shows that no individual justice has a higher disapproval rating than 35 percent (that for Brett Kavanaugh), and no justice’s favorability rating is worse than -4 percent, while the two most popular justices in the poll (Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas) are also the most vividly combative opinion-writers on the current Court. Doubtless the latest numbers (in which only Republicans disapproved of the Court, by a narrow 41 percent to 39 percent margin) reflect its most recent controversy — turning away Donald Trump’s challenges to the 2020 election — but they also illustrate that the voters continue to respect a Supreme Court of nine justices, in which individual justices have strong convictions consistent with the parties that appointed them but do not necessarily follow the short-term interests of those parties.


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