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Trust in Supreme Court Declined In Past Couple Years, Study Finds

Americans' trust in the Supreme Court has dropped sharply in recent years, with a record-low 47% telling Gallup they distrust the high court. The erosion of confidence in the court since 2020 has been driven largely by partisanship, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Four years ago, the court was, by far, the most-trusted institution in Washington. But that was before a 6-3 conservative supermajority delivered several high-profile decisions favoring conservative policies, including overturning the right to abortion, ending affirmative action in college admissions, and expanding gun rights. Now, as the high court nears the end of another potentially seismic term, a plurality of Americans (42%) for the first time viewed the court as “too conservative.” “We’ve seen this real partisan trust gap emerge,” says Matthew Levendusky, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied public perception of the court. “If it seems like it’s just another conservative institution, then that will further erode trust. But if they can combat that perception, that will help to go a long way toward restoring at least some of that."

While Republican confidence in the court has remained steady, trust has cratered among Democrats and some independents. But the court is also taking, or being forced by lower courts to take, a steady diet of high-profile, politically charged cases. Meanwhile, the overall size of its docket is the smallest it’s been since the Civil War. As a result, the controversial cases take up even more oxygen. And the justices themselves, with ethics scandals and their public rhetoric, have at times given the impression that distrust is merited. Cases this term could further break, or buttress, trust in the court. Thursday's arguments by lawyers for former President Donald Trump – to a high court that includes three justices he appointed – claiming that he should have immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct while he was in office could further the trend. The Supreme Court had been the most-trusted government institution for decades because it acted with humility and avoided dramatically reshaping the law, legal experts say. The justices also modeled civility and how to work across ideological divides. Trust in the high court bottomed out in 2022 after it overturned Roe v. Wade. According to numerous surveys, however, the decline began before that. While the high court decides big cases every year, in recent years “they’re big cases with a political valence, and that has not always been the case,” says Linda Greenhouse, author of “Justice on the Brink.”


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