The Supreme Court Has a Legitimacy Crisis, but Not for the Reason You Think
Last week, a New York Times/CBS poll found that only 44 percent of Americans approve of the Supreme Court’s job performance and 75 percent say the justices are sometimes influenced by their political views. But although the results of the poll were striking, commentators may have been too quick to suggest a direct link between the two findings. In the Times article on the poll, for example, Adam Liptak and Allison Kopicki suggested that the drop in the Court’s 66 percent approval ratings in the late 1980s “could reflect a sense that the court is more political, after the ideologically divided 5-to-4 decisions in Bush v. Gore and Citizens United.” At the beginning of his tenure, Chief Justice John Roberts said that he subscribed to a similar theory. “I do think the rule of law is threatened by a steady term after term after term focus on 5-4 decisions,” Roberts told me.
But a new study by Nathaniel Persily of Columbia Law School and Stephen Ansolabehere of Harvard suggests that the relationship between the Court’s declining approval ratings and increased perceptions of the Court’s partisanship may be more complicated than the New York Times and the Chief Justice suggest.