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Americans take an increasingly dim view of the US Supreme Court

Majority now believe politics, not the law, drive the court's decisions

Abortion-rights protesters regroup and protest following Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade
Abortion-rights protesters regroup and protest following Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, federally protected right to abortion, in Washington, Friday, June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years, a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court’s landmark abortion cases. Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP Photo

Americans’ feelings about the U.S. Supreme Court have fallen to a new low following the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, according to a new Marquette University Law School Poll.

The national poll from the Milwaukee university released Wednesday found favorable opinion of the court fell to 38 percent, with 61 percent disapproving of the court’s handling of its job. That’s down 6 percentage points from May, and down from a 60 percent approval rating a year ago.

“Approval of the court has sharply declined,” Charles Franklin, director of the poll, said. “That’s by far the lowest level we’ve seen since we’ve been polling on the court.”

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Before Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death in September 2020, Franklin said, 66 percent of those polled had a favorable opinion of the court.

“Those high levels above the 50s were not atypical of the court in that period, so over these last 12 months — to go from 60 percent into the 50s, then into the 40s and now at 38 percent — is really a very substantial shift in perception of the court that we’ve seen in the wake of this year’s decisions,” he said.

Marquette conducted the poll from July 5 to 12, weeks after the release of the court’s decisions from its fall term. Those decisions included not only Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which overturned Roe, but a series of high-profile cases on the ability of the government to regulate firearms, on climate change and on public funding of religious schools.

While opinions on the court — and on the court’s decisions on abortion and guns — varied sharply along partisan lines, the poll showed a marked change in the public’s perception of the high court’s motivations in deciding cases.

When Marquette polled Americans in July 2021, just 29 percent of respondents said they believed the court’s decisions were motivated primarily by politics. This month, 52 percent said politics drove the court’s actions.

That was the first time since the university began polling about the Supreme Court in 2019 that a minority said they believed the justices decide cases based on the law rather than politics.

Overall, 36 percent of those polled approved overturning Roe. Sixty-four percent were opposed. Again, opinions on the court’s decision on Dobbs split heavily on partisan lines.

Among Republicans, 71 percent said they backed the decision. Among independents, that fell to 36 percent, although independents’ view of the decision had improved since May when just 24 percent said they favored overturning Roe. The vast majority of Democrats, 91 percent, were opposed to the ruling.

On the issue of gun rights, a majority of those polled approved of the court’s decision that expanded the right to possess guns outside the home. Fifty-six percent of those polled approved of that decision, compared to 44 who were opposed.

That issue, too, was split sharply along party lines. Ninety-five percent of Republicans supported the decision, compared to 61 percent of independents and 18 percent of Democrats.