Surprise: Republicans Really, Really Aren't Fans of the Supreme Court Right Now

Daniel Doherty
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Posted: Jul 16, 2015 12:00 PM
Surprise: Republicans Really, Really Aren't Fans of the Supreme Court Right Now

This poll is fascinating. In 2001, 80 percent of self-proclaimed Republicans approved of the Supreme Court of the United States, according to Gallup. Fourteen years later? Republicans’ approval of the institution sits at just 18 percent — a 62-point swing:

After a historic Supreme Court session that included rulings on same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act, Democrats' approval of the high court has surged to 76% and Republicans' approval has plummeted to a record-low 18%. Americans overall are divided, with 49% approving and 46% disapproving.

"Record-low." Republicans’ disenchantment with the High Court is real. As a matter of fact, the court’s rulings in Obergefell v. Hodges and King v. Burwell impelled one GOP presidential candidate to seriously proclaim outright that the court itself should be abolished. (No offense, but that strikes me as insane). After all, as the pollsters note, Republicans didn’t have much of a problem with the High Court when they threw the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush, thus ending eight straight years of Democratic rule in the White House. So the cloth cuts both ways.

But what is the deal with Republicans? And why are they giving the High Court such amazingly low marks? The pollsters attempted to provide an explanation:

Americans -- specifically Democrats and Republicans -- have often changed their opinions of the Supreme Court based on how it has ruled on high-profile decisions. That indicates that many Americans are aware of what the Supreme Court is doing and the public's evaluations have some substance behind them.

Right now, after two major rulings that were consistent with Democrats' policy preferences, Republicans' and Democrats' views of the Supreme Court are more disparate than at any time in the past 15 years. A key question is how long those highly polarized views might persist. Clearly they could shift if the Supreme Court issues another major ruling on a politically divisive issue that pleases Republicans, which in the next term could be invalidating the use of race as a factor in college admissions. More generally, though, the evidence from the trends suggests the major partisan shifts do not persist long, usually diminishing to some degree in the subsequent poll, and possibly showing more substantial change if there is an intervening major Supreme Court event that favors one group of partisans over another.

So in plain English, if the High Court rules race — as a criteria for admission in American colleges and universities — unconstitutional next session, Republicans’ perception of the Supreme Court would improve accordingly. However, even if it does not, we’ll likely see Republican lessen their hostility towards the High Court over time. And yet, that doesn't completely answer the question I posed above, now does it?

Perhaps there's such a huge gap because SCOTUS’ June rulings were so sweeping — and so historic — that center-right Americans are still reeling from the news. Remember, it's not everyday that an institution like marriage gets redefined — and a deeply unpopular statute like Obamacare becomes de facto "settled law."

Clearly Republicans took these rulings hard.