The American public's opinion of the Supreme Court has taken a dramatic turn for the worse over the past 25 years, according to a recent New York Times/CBS poll. Only 44 percent of Americans approve of the court's performance, compared to more than 60 percent of Americans in the late 1980s. Meanwhile, 75 percent of the poll's respondents say the judges' personal politics influence their legal decisions and 60 percent say the justices should not be appointed for life.
Over the past quarter century, Americans' general faith in public institutions has fallen, but the Supreme Court has especially lost favor. No one knows for sure what is driving the growing suspicion, but a recent spate of 5-4 decisions--where the liberal and conservative wings of the court split without compromise--may give the impression that the justices are unduly influenced by their politics and not just their fidelity to the constitution. The 2010 Citizens United decision, which struck down a campaign finance law that limited election spending, was also unpopular with the American public. (President Obama went so far as to rebuke the justices to their faces during his State of the Union speech over the decision.) Some of the conservative judges then boycotted his next speech, prompting criticism that they were trying to "pay back" the president for his scolding.
This month, the judges will hand down decisions in two politically-charged cases: President Obama's signature health care reform law, and Arizona's state law cracking down on illegal immigrants, which the Obama administration sought to block. Nearly 70 percent of Americans want the Supreme Court to strike down some or all of the health care law, according to the NYT/CBS poll.