Jul 19, 2012

Americans Disapprove of Supreme Court More Post-ACA

A new New York Times poll finds that Americans' opinion of the Supreme Court fell in the aftermath of the health care decision:
The nation is now evenly divided, with 41 percent of Americans saying they approve of the job the court is doing and the same share voicing disapproval, according to a new poll conducted by The New York Times and CBS News. In a poll a few weeks before the health care decision, the court’s approval rating was 44 percent and its disapproval rating 36 percent.
More than half of Americans said the decision in the health care case was based mainly on the justices’ personal or political views. Only about 3 in 10 of them said the decision in the case was based mainly on legal analysis.
This surprise anyone else? If the Court had truly voted along it's political preferences, I would have expected a 5-4 decision to at least toss the mandate out, if not strike down the entire law. But Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the four liberal justices to uphold it.

The Chief Justice did side with his conservative colleagues on the activity/inactivity argument, but in the end, he ruled that the penalty was just another word for a tax and thus the mandate was constitutional. Now, I personally believe this was a calculated move by the Chief Justice and that he expected the Court to gain credibility for it, allowing him to rule more conservatively on future cases. Thus, I do think that his decision was politically motivated.

But does the American public follow the Court close enough to agree with me? I doubt it. So does that mean that the public believes this is actually a liberal court? I don't believe that either, at least not after Citizens United.

And yet, now Americans have a worse opinion of the Court and only 3 in 10 say the decision was decided on legal analysis. Of course, it's just one poll and there's no reason to read too much into it. Many Americans may assume that the Court voted politically on it due to the highly political nature of the law. But it is still a bit surprising.

In the end though, the poll actually excites me a bit, if for the wrong reasons. I want Americans to have faith in the highest court in the country, but if the Chief Justice's plan was to vote liberally on this case in order to restore the Court's credibility and allow him to vote more conservatively on future cases, then I'm happy to see that the plan is not working. If that means he cannot vote as conservatively as he wishes in the future, then let the public keep showing its dissatisfaction with the Court.


  1. I have heard it said elsewhere that Roberts voted the way he did so that he may vote conservatively in the future. I don't understand how that factors into a Supreme Court Justice's decisions. What prevents him from voting however he likes? Help me out here.

    -Noah Manson Prescott

  2. Well, the argument was that the SCOTUS had been so hackishly conservative that it was becoming a wing of the RNC, and thus discrediting it among the broad population. Now that Roberts was the key vote on upholding Obama's signature accomplishment, he's got a lot more credibility as an independent thinker, not just some kind of Fox News apparatchik.

    My personal thought is that he was prepared to strike down the mandate, but the fact that the rest of the conservatives wanted to strike down the rest of the law entirely--even parts that had nothing to do with the core of Obamacare, using a bizarre "Christmas tree doctrine"--was a bridge too far.

    Who knows, really.