A new Gallup poll finds that Americans as a whole are largely ambivalent about the Supreme Court — 47 percent approve of the Court and 46 percent disapprove — numbers that are virtually unchanged from last year. Yet that is only part of the story. The poll shows a sudden spike in Republican approval of the GOP-controlled Court and a similar drop in Democratic support over the last year. As Gallup explains, “[s]upport among Republicans may have increased this year in response to the court’s 5–4 [birth control] decision in Hobby Lobby’s favor. At the same time, that decision likely cost the court some support from Democrats.”
Overall, however, the chart suggests that most Americans have very short memories when it comes to the Supreme Court. And it also suggests that public opinion of the Court is driven by singular, high-profile events rather than by a holistic assessment of the Court’s performance. Democratic support for the Court remained fairly high, for example, after the Supreme Court struck down the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, even though the justices also gutted much of the Voting Rights Act and shielded many bosses who engage in sexual or racial harassment the very same week as the DOMA decision.
In 2012, after the justices narrowly rejected a constitutional case against the Affordable Care Act that, in the words of one well-known conservative judge, had no basis “in either the text of the Constitution or Supreme Court precedent,” Republicans were nonetheless outraged that the justices decided not to repeal Obamacare and Democratic support for the Court skyrocketed. Similarly, the chart shows a spike in Republican approval of the Court in 2005, shortly after conservatives Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito were confirmed. It also shows a similar spike among Democrats in 2009, around the time that liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed.