HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A New Poll on Public Approval for the Court: Sour Grapes?

A New York Times/CBS News poll indicates that the public's support for the Supreme Court is at a low after the Healthcare Cases were decided.  The Times reports:

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. ...

More than half of Republicans now express disapproval of its work, compared with just over a third in early June. Among Democrats, the court continues to be somewhat more popular, with about half approving and a third disapproving.

Among independents, positive views of the court also held steady, with about 4 in 10 Americans approving. But disapproval among independents rose, to 43 percent from 32 percent.

The poll seems to have mostly measured sour grapes:

Partisanship also affected the public’s assessment of how the justices conducted themselves in rendering the health care decision. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans said it had been based on politics, compared with about 4 in 10 Democrats and more than half of independents.

I am not certain that the Court should care that the public believes its most high-profile case this term was politically motivated. The 7 in 10 who believe it was political and not legal analysis probably knew little about the ACA and even less about the Constitution or how the Court applies it.  And, despite the lack of civic knowledgeAmericans seem to hold the Court in high esteem, regardless of whether they "approve" of its work.  Perhaps "approval" is the wrong way to ask the question. 

Either way, I remain convinced that the Obama administration needs to strengthen its information campaign for the ACA.

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