Ever since December of 2021, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case that six months later would overturn Roe v. Wade, a 49-year old precedent – "settled law," Americans were assured by the Court's Justices in their confirmation hearings – ensuring women have the constitutional right to abortion. Chief Justice John Roberts has been accused of losing control of his justices.
On Thursday, just days before the high court begins its new term, as one of the Justices' spouses delivers testimony on her role in the coordinated efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, amid sniping by the Chief Justice and a conservative justice at their liberal colleague, and anger across the nation so virulent the midterm elections appear to be rapidly swinging back to Democrats. The right-leaning Gallup organization has released a new poll that's absolutely devastating for the Chief Justice and the Court he was entrusted to lead – not to mention American democracy itself.
"Supreme Court Trust, Job Approval at Historical Lows," Gallup's damning headline reads.
"47% trust the judicial branch; previous low was 53%," "40% job approval of U.S. Supreme Court is tied for record low," and "Record-high 42% say Supreme Court is too conservative."
Translated, that means the legitimacy of the court is in question, despite entreaties from Justice Samuel Alito, who authored the Dobbs opinion that discarded nearly five decades of settled law to achieve a desired goal: rescinding the constitutional right to abortion, and with it, quite possibly not far down the road, the constitutional right to contraception, same-sex intimacy, and same-sex marriage.
"'Less than half of Americans say they have ‘a great deal’ or ‘a fair amount’ of trust in the judicial branch of the federal government, representing a 20-percentage-point drop from two years ago, including seven points since last year,'" Politico reports, quoting an advanced copy of Gallup's findings.
"This represents a 20-percentage-point drop from two years ago," Gallup's own report reveals, "including seven points since last year, and is now the lowest in Gallup's trend by six points. The judicial branch's current tarnished image contrasts with trust levels exceeding two-thirds in most years in Gallup's trend that began in 1972."
Respect for the Supreme Court was such a non-question that from 1976, when Americans' "trust and confidence" in the nation's highest court stood at 63%, Gallup, it appears, did not even ask the question again in polls again until 1997, when the answer came back at 71%.
Today, under Chief Justice Roberts, it is a mere 47%.
Also today, Ginni Thomas, the far right wing activist spouse of one of the Court's most right-wing jurists, Clarence Thomas, is testifying before the U.S. House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack regarding her role in efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.
This week Justice Alito, also a far-right conservative, delivered a thinly-veiled attack against Justice Elena Kagan, a liberal, in a rare public forum.
So did the Chief Justice, just weeks earlier.
“The very worst moments [in the court’s history] have been times when judges have even essentially reflected one party’s or one ideology’s set of views in their legal decisions," Justice Kagan said recently, sparking anger from the right. "The thing that builds up reservoirs of public confidence is the court acting like a court and not acting like an extension of the political process.”
“Judges create legitimacy problems for themselves when they don’t act like courts,” she also said, and “when they instead stray into places that looks like they are an extension of the political process or where they are imposing their own personal preferences.”
“If, over time, the court loses all connection with the public and with public sentiment, that is a dangerous thing for democracy,” Kagan warned.
Chief Justice Roberts later delivered a terse retort.
“Simply because people disagree with an opinion is not a basis for questioning the legitimacy of the court.”
Bloomberg Law columnist Vivia Chen, citing the well-respected constitutional scholar and retired Harvard Law professor of law, Laurence Tribe, recently wrote: "Chief Justice Roberts Is Officially Irrelevant."
“Having had both John Roberts and Elena Kagan as my brilliant students in constitutional law, and having watched each of their careers unfold, I can’t help thinking that one of them, Justice Kagan, has grown into her role as a wise jurist,” Tribe told Chen in response to the Roberts-Kagan flap.
“Chief Justice Roberts has dwindled in stature as his cliches have lost their power and even their relevance,” Tribe added.
Justice Alito entered the sparring match this week, telling The Wall Street Journal: “It goes without saying that everyone is free to express disagreement with our decisions and to criticize our reasoning as they see fit. But saying or implying that the court is becoming an illegitimate institution or questioning our integrity crosses an important line.”
It was a clear swipe at Justice Kagan.
"It’s embarrassingly obvious that recent decisions rendered by the conservative supermajority hew to a certain political agenda," Bloomberg's Chen noted, asking: "where does one start? I guess Dobbs was a biggie because it destroyed almost 50 years of reproductive rights for women."
"Then," she added, "there’s the decision that crippled New York’s gun-control law and the one that severely cut back climate change regulations. And let’s not forget how the court keeps siding with religion, as if the separation of church and state is an optional part of the Constitution."
"That the Supreme Court lurched so far to the right in less than a year is breathtaking," Chen observes. "It’s like we’re suddenly transported to a country where Wayne LaPierre, Christian fundamentalists, corporate polluters, and the ghost of Phyllis Schlafly are calling the shots."
(For those looking fore even more justification of how the Supreme Court is undermining its own legitimacy, this video clip offers an additional answer.)
All this turmoil, turbulence, and trouble comes days before the Court begins its new term.
"The Supreme Court will return to work on the first Monday of October, after a three-month summer break, with all the determination of a Renaissance-era explorer looking for new lands to conquer," snarked – or warned – The Nation's Elie Mystal. "Last term, the court’s conservative supermajority showed it was willing to ignore precedent (overturning Roe v. Wade), reality (issuing rulings that will lead to more gun violence and climate pollution), and facts (making up evidence in the praying-football-coach case) to arrive at its preferred judicial outcomes."
"This term, the high court will cement its grip on political life in America, overturning affirmative action and other critical protections along the way," he says.
"The conservative Supreme Court has been willing to suppress the vote or let Republican-controlled state legislatures gerrymander district maps to the point where the popular vote is all but meaningless, but so far, the court has been unwilling to throw away enough votes after the fact to change the outcome of an election. We’ll see if there’s a first time for everything."
How bad could it be?
A picture's worth a thousand words.