A new Gallup poll find that the Supreme Court has a negative approval rating for only the second time since 2000, a result that, on the surface, should bring some cheer to Americans frustrated with its efforts to suppress voting rights, shield abusive bosses, and immunize wealthy corporations from lawsuits. Except that there’s one big problem — this message doesn’t seem to be translating to rank-and-file Democrats:
As this chart shows, the justices’ approval rating spiked among Democrats and tanked among Republicans almost immediately after the Court upheld the Affordable Care Act against an effort to overrule nearly two centuries of American constitutional law. Indeed, the legal case against Obamacare was so lacking in merit that Judge Laurence Silberman, a top conservative judge who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush, wrote that it has no basis “in either the text of the Constitution or Supreme Court precedent.” And yet Democrats viewed it as a high triumph, and Republicans deemed it an outrageous betrayal, when just one of the Court’s five conservatives rescued the bulk of the law from a meritless legal assault.
The Court’s most recent term, by contrast, which featured major victories for sexual harassers, abusive corporations and states with a history of preventing minorities from casting a vote, barely moved public opinion on the Supreme Court.
It’s not hard to guess why this is the case. Republicans proudly campaign on their narrow vision of the Constitution, while Democratic politicians as a class barely even mention the topic. Immediately after oral arguments on the Affordable Care Act, for example, there were two podiums set up in front of the Court — one for supporters of the law and one for opponents. The conservative podium featured a stream of Republican elected officials, including Members of Congress, attorneys general, and former presidential candidates. One of the speakers at the other podium was me.
Simply put, the appropriate surrogate for such a high profile media opportunity is not a mid-level policy staffer at a liberal think tank. And yet the very lawmakers who voted to make the Affordable Care Act law were much harder to find that day at the Supreme Court than the top Republicans crowing about how the Supreme Court was about to embrace their legally nonsensical lawsuit. Until Democratic officials are willing to close this gap, they can expect more polls showing that voters have no idea just how far the Supreme Court is moving the law to the right.