The Supreme Court’s favorability rating among Americans has not been this low since 1985, according to the newest poll from Pew Research. The high court’s popularity has taken a dramatic tumble since March, largely due to two big decisions that came down last month on gay marriage and Obamacare. Following those two decisions, 43 percent of Americans view the Supreme Court unfavorably. That’s up from 39 percent in March.
The decline isn’t dramatic, but it does show that Republicans are furious about the outcome of those two cases. Gay marriage, in particular, has fueled much of the criticism laid at the doorstep of the court. Even some supporters of legalization found themselves unable to reconcile the court’s ruling with the Constitution. Conservatives are especially incensed, accusing the justices of using their position to create law rather than follow it. Of course, for anyone who has watched the Obama administration over the last six years, it’s nothing new to watch federal officials play fast and loose with the Constitution.
The poll shows that merely 33 percent of Republicans view the Supreme Court with favor. That’s down from 50 percent in March, demonstrating just how vigorously conservatives oppose the latest decisions. 68 percent of conservative Republicans characterize the court as “liberal,” a view that has also jumped dramatically from the last Pew poll.
These numbers certainly aren’t surprising. The problem is that the Supreme Court isn’t beholden to public opinion. The favorability rating of the court can dwindle to zero and it won’t make one damn bit of difference. These justices don’t have to prove themselves to the voters; they are explicitly – and purposefully – removed from such considerations. And that’s fine. That’s just the way it’s supposed to be.
Here’s what isn’t fine. The court may be above the petty opinions of the unwashed, but it isn’t supposed to be above the law. It isn’t supposed to occupy an untouchable space above Congress and the president. It is supposed to be an equal branch of the U.S. government, and its justices are supposed to use legal precedent and the Constitution to guide their decision-making. And it is in these two areas that we have a problem.
If Republicans are truly representing the people, they owe it to their voters to challenge these rulings. To enact legislation that will restore the definition of marriage. To pursue remedies for a liberal court that has abandoned its legal duty. Alas, we find no help there.
So that leaves us with the president. Not the current one, of course, because he couldn’t be happier with the Supreme Court right now. No, we must look forward to his replacement, and we must understand the importance of getting it right. It’s not enough to beat Hillary next year; we must ensure that we beat liberalism. We must put someone in office who will not swap Ginsberg out for someone worse. A conservative, of course. But more importantly, someone who understands that the Supreme Court is not supposed to be a purely political battleground. At some point in the process, the law should actually be consulted.
That’s not too much to ask, right?