The United States Supreme Court returned to action last Monday with a docket full of pivotal cases. Public opinion of our nation’s highest court is at its lowest in 25 years, sitting at 52 percent favorability, according to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center. Shockingly enough, this disapproval comes from both Republicans and Democrats. In our current age of complete political partisanship, what can the Supreme Court possibly be doing to cause this disapproving unity across the aisle? And should this approval rating even matter?
Theories for this historically low rating will fly fast and furious. The truth is, our country’s integrated displeasure with the Supreme Court does not stem from discontent with the actual decisions of the court. It is a direct result of our constant political conflict. Liberals are displeased with the Supreme Court because they deem it too conservative, while conservatives disapprove of the Supreme Court because they believe it is too liberal.
The most prominent example of this blind condemnation is the recent and incredibly controversial Affordable Healthcare Act Obamacare case. The duty of the Court in this case was to determine the constitutionality of Obamacare and consequently decide whether or not it would continue to exist. In the end, the Court approved most of Obamacare’s sanctions. Liberals should have been overjoyed with the Court’s ruling. Instead, they were upset by the fact that there was debate over the issue at all; the fact that the ruling was so closely contested caused dissatisfaction among Democrats. On the other side of the aisle, Republicans were infuriated that the Affordable Care Act was upheld and felt betrayed by what was widely believed to be a more conservative Supreme Court.
The low approval rating of the Supreme Court – and its cause – reflects the dire state of our United States democracy. The Supreme Court was formed not to act as a political machine for one side or the other, but to provide our nation with irrefutable definitions of justice. The low favorability rating for the Supreme Court reveals America’s disregard for objectivity and concepts like justice and constitutionality in favor of political gain. Our country should be much more worried about its “democratic” state than its high court.
However, the Pew Research Center’s statistics should not matter at all. The Supreme Court is not meant to function in a manner that pleases the people. The Supreme Court’s duty is not to satisfy powerful figures in the government and rule according to party lines. The Supreme Court’s purpose is to function as an impartial and objective institution of justice. The entire point of having a Supreme Court is so that our country can rely on a court that, being isolated from both the government and the public, can administer rulings of justice that have precedent and are fair. If our highest court were to be affected by the public, then clearly it could not be trusted as an institution of justice. Instead, it would be yet another facet of our government distorted by partisanship and political power. Although the justices themselves cannot help their own political preferences, the imperative element is that they remain unaffected by the political stances of the rest of the country. Their opinions must be their own.
We can draw multiple conclusions from the 52 percent approval rate of the Supreme Court. However, there is one conclusion that is far more important than the others: the Supreme Court’s favorability does not matter with regard to the court itself. Instead, it should be considered a warning. Our uncompromising and partisan approach to government is not only dividing our country on critical legislative issues, it is twisting our view of fundamental concepts such as justice, constitutionality and democracy. We would do well to heed our own warning.
Les Poling ’16 is from Winona, Minn. His major is currently undecided.