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Self-immolating Supreme Court's credibility spirals, poll finds

Right-wing justices are handing down deeply unpopular rulings that stand to harm the court's legitimacy — perhaps irreparably.


The raft of right-wing Supreme Court rulings we’ve seen over the past year has coincided with a steep drop in the public’s approval of the court. 

Simply put: Americans don’t like the hyper-conservative decisions — which impact everything from abortion access and police misconduct to voting rights, gas emissions and gun safety — handed down by Republican-backed justices.

Conservative justices are sacrificing the legitimacy of the court in the eyes of the public in order to codify right-wing domination into law.

A new poll released Wednesday by Marquette University Law School found a mere 38% of adults approve of how the court is doing its job, compared to 61% who disapprove. Those numbers have essentially flipped in just a year’s time: In July 2021, a similar poll found the court had a 60% approval rating compared with 39% who disapproved. 

But the court’s rulings have drastically altered our world in that time, and the Marquette poll is a sign that the court runs the risk of delegitimizing itself if it continues on the same path.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of this as a form of judicial self-immolation. For the unfamiliar, self-immolating is the act of setting yourself on fire in the name of a perceived greater cause. Conservative justices, for example, are sacrificing the legitimacy of the court in the eyes of the public in order to codify right-wing domination into law. They are setting our nation’s concept of an independent judiciary — in fact, the very concept of a supreme court — on fire to enact what amounts to a white, Christian nationalist view of America.

Conservatives are killing the court.

Last week, I wrote about the mass defiance we can expect as Americans fight revanchist Supreme Court rulings (the ones that have passed and the ones yet to come). These, in my view, are untenable decisions in a humane society, and they permit oppressive laws no person should be bound to respect. And in many cases, people won’t.

With abortion, we know this will happen — a point Senate candidate Gary Chambers of Louisiana made quite clear in this ad. And rest assured, the righteous defiance won’t end with abortion bans. 

GOP-backed justices have clearly taken note of the court’s loss of legitimacy, which explains why so many have issued public statements in the past year trying to downplay worries about the court’s hard-right turn. (I’m looking at you, Amy Coney Barrett, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.) 

But none of these excuses have actually worked in dissuading the public from thinking the court is out of step with most of America. And that problem will impact its ability to wield power.