WASHINGTON — Is there a new American motto: Nothing we trust?
In many ways, most Americans lack faith in big institutions and have done so for years. Congress? Two big thumbs down. The Presidency? Ehh. Americans are also suspicious of big business, unions, public schools, and organized religion. Indeed, they have a catastrophic vision of the functioning of democracy itself.
The Supreme Court was something of an exception. The one branch of government that does not depend on public opinion traditionally enjoys greater public esteem than the popularly elected branches. His reputation above the fray, cultivated with exquisite care, once served him well.
Now the judges face judgment over the audacious leak of a first draft opinion that overturns the constitutional right to abortion, an episode that has bolstered suspicions that the High Court, despite all its decorum, is populated by politicians in robes.
Republican members of Congress suggest a sinister left-wing plot to derail the outcome of the final decision. The Liberals allege right-wing machinations to lock in the justices in their preliminary vote. Despite all this speculation, neither side knows who leaked the project to Politico and why.
What is clear is that the case has burst a deferential bubble around the court.
“My faith in the court has been shaken,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, one of the few Republican senators in favor of abortion rights, with concern. Vice President Kamala Harris accused the justices of mounting a “direct attack on freedom” if they vote as they reported. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., accused Trump-appointed justices of lying to Congress about their views on abortion during their hearings.
Elected officials do not normally speak of judges in this way. But now, it seems, the jurists are fair game, just another contingent of powerful players in Washington’s pit of vipers.
By contrast, after waging a bitter legal fight to settle the 2000 election, which went implausibly, Democrat Al Gore upheld his grievances over the court’s political smear when he dashed his hopes in a ruling that made Republican George W. Bush president.
Gore wasn’t shy about “accepting the finality of this outcome,” much as he said he disagreed with it. The deferent bubble was obvious. But that decision became the modern starting point for the erosion of trust in the court.
In the years that followed, Democrats gutted the filibuster on one front to help them populate the lower federal courts with as many judges as possible, knowing they were setting a precedent that could bite them in the future.
Then Republicans did the same for Supreme Court nominees in the judicial equivalent of nuclear escalation.
And there was Donald Trump. During his presidency, Trump has specialized in what the political class calls saying out loud the quiet part. This included the fact that he viewed the judiciary as a political beast, made up of Democratic or Republican judges.
For the judges, who have long cloaked themselves in the idea that politics ends once they step onto the bench, it was a step too far when Trump accused “Obama’s judges” of putting themselves on the bench. in his way and other belittled judges he didn’t like. .
“We don’t have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in an unusual statement chastising Trump’s comments. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges who do their best to do an equal right to those who appear before them.”
Yet in the United States, people have become suspicious of judicial independence lately, with a strong majority believing that judges should keep their political views out of their decisions, but not even 1 polled out of 5 who think they are doing a great or good job. .
In 2020, Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett became the first modern-day justice to win confirmation without a single vote from the minority party. She knows what it looks like.
“My goal today is to convince you that this court is not made up of a group of partisan hacks,” she told an audience in Louisville, Kentucky, in September at a center named in the honor of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who engineered his quick confirmation. . Barrett was one of five judges to report a vote against Roe versus Wade in the leaked draft, Politico said.
As controversial as Roe v. Wade asserting the right to abortion in 1973 and in the years that followed was not a decision motivated by partisanship. The vote was 7 to 2, with five of the majority justices nominated by Republican presidents.
Now Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a liberal on the court with a conservative majority, warns that a 50-year reversal of abortion rights would shatter the idea that American justice is blind to partisanship or party.
“Will this institution survive the stench it creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts? she asked in a Mississippi abortion case in December. She said she thought he wouldn’t survive this.
OUT OF SIGHT
Except when a monumental decision like this on abortion is made, or when Congress selects nominees for the court in its performative hearings, the Supreme Court largely works out of sight and out of mind. But in New York, the leak got Sequoia Snyder thinking about court. Is this just one more institution not to be trusted?
“When you think about it, the power is not in the hands of the people,” said Snyder, 22. “We’re not voting on this. The Electoral College…the popular vote is being ignored. The police aren’t very regulated, they can do whatever they want with impunity.
“Like every facet of our society you go to, we don’t really have power or a voice. So I just think it’s crazy that nine people have the final say on like everything in the country and they can never lose their jobs. It just seems weird.
In Charleston, outside West Virginia’s only abortion clinic, Dennis Westover, a 72-year-old retired electrical engineer, sat in a lawn chair with an anti-abortion sign. He too sees bizarre court facts.
“One side or the other did it for a political motive to stir up some kind of stench,” he said of the leak. “We humans do what we do for whatever we think is a good reason. … What was the reason? It couldn’t be good because you leaked inside information from the Supreme Court.
In an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll last month, only 18% of American adults said they had “a lot” of confidence in the Supreme Court. Around 27% have little self-confidence.
The high court has always received better marks than the other branches and it remains that way. In the most recent poll, only 4% have great confidence in Congress; 51% have practically none. And 36% have little confidence in the executive.
However, the Court’s position has deteriorated in recent years. The 2021 General Social Survey suggested that trust in the high court was among its lowest points over the past half-century.
In September, a Gallup poll found that 54% of those polled had at least a “good dose” of confidence in the court, down from 67% in 2020. Only once in five decades has that confidence fallen below 60. %.
Poor government ratings are coupled with a bleak view of American democracy and a disenchantment with the pillars of society almost everywhere you look.
Gallup has tracked public opinion from 14 grassroots institutions across the spectrum – organized labor, church, media, medical community among them – and found that trust in them is waning, with the share expressing a high confidence never exceeding 36% on average over 15 years. years. Only the military and small businesses get a resounding vote of confidence.
Everything is superimposed on the feeling that the very foundation of the republic is in trouble. In January, 53% said in an AP-NORC poll that democracy in the United States was not working well; only 8% thought it worked very well or extremely well.
This state of affairs emanated from a 2020 election that saw Trump fight hard and unsuccessfully to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s clear victory in the White House. Trump’s false allegations of a rigged election have reverberated across the country as the two parties clash over state election laws in response.
In his efforts to cling to power, however, Trump has also faced the limits of political influence in the justice system as he and his campaign have brought a battery of outlandish legal challenges to the courtrooms for the systematically fail.
The “Trump judges” did not save him.
Associated Press writer Leah Willingham in Charleston, West Virginia, contributed to this report.