In June, the Supreme Court made a trio of important decisions on hot-button issues in American politics.
In the first of these decisions (Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College), the court ruled that the use of race-based metrics in college admissions, widely known as affirmative action, is unconstitutional.
In 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, the court ruled that the state of Colorado cannot enforce a state anti-discrimination law against a Christian website designer, Lorie Smith, who does not want to design wedding websites for same-sex couples because doing so would violate her First Amendment right to free speech.
Finally, in Biden v. Nebraska, the court ruled that President Biden’s use of his executive powers to cancel more than $400 million of student debt exceeded his authority and (in the opinion of Chief Justice Roberts) amounted to “the Executive seizing the power of the Legislature.”
In all three cases, the six conservative justices on the court (Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barret) formed the majority opinion, with none of their more liberal colleagues (Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ketanji Brown Jackson) joining them.
We at Redfield & Wilton Strategies find that more American voters support than oppose the Supreme Court’s rulings in all three of the recent cases highlighted above, while every justice on the Supreme Court currently holds a positive net favorability rating.
However, at the same time, a majority of Americans say they think the Supreme Court has become too politicised, and a plurality oppose Supreme Court Justices being appointed for life.
All nine justices hold net positive favorability ratings, with our latest poll showing Sonia Sotomayor holding the highest net favorability rating (+21%) and Clarence Thomas the lowest of +3%.
Chief Justice Roberts is the only justice whose favorability rating has fallen in the past month (down two points to +15%) while Sotomayor (+21%, +5), Ketanji Brown Jackson (+20%, +8), and Elena Kagan (+14%, +6), who make up the Court’s liberal wing, all see rises in favorability.
A majority (51%) supports the Court’s ruling in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, against 22% who oppose that decision. A majority of Trump 2020 voters and a plurality of Biden 2020 voters support the Court’s ruling in the case.
Half (50%) of respondents also support the Court’s ruling in Students for Fair Admissions, while 21% express opposition against it. In every age group, more voters support the court’s decision than oppose it.
On the Court’s ruling on President Biden’s student debt forgiveness plan, a plurality (49%) of voters support the decision while 22% oppose it.
Even among Biden 2020 voters (68% of whom support the President’s student debt forgiveness plan) 42% support the Supreme Court’s ruling that the plan as executed by the Administration is unconstitutional, while just 32% of Biden 2020 oppose the Court’s ruling on the case.
Nevertheless, our research also shows some dissatisfaction among Americans with the Supreme Court and how it functions.
A clear majority (62%) of the American public now thinks that the Supreme Court has become too politicised, a view with which only 9% say they disagree.
This view is held by voters across party lines, with 69% of Biden 2020 and 66% of Trump 2020 voters agreeing that the Supreme Court has become too politicized.
Furthermore, many Americans also have reservations over the lifetime appointment given to Justices on the Supreme Court. A plurality (45%) of Americans oppose Supreme Court Justices being appointed for life, while 29% support the current arrangement.
Reflecting, perhaps, the current ideological balance of the Court, 2020 Donald Trump voters narrowly support Justices to the Supreme Court for life (38% support vs 36% oppose), while a majority of 56% of 2020 Biden voters oppose Justices being appointed for life, against just 28% who support them being appointed for life.
Americans are also divided ideologically on whether or not the Supreme Court should be expanded beyond its current number of nine Justices.
The debate intensified in the wake of the Court’s seismic Dobbs v. Jackson decision in June 2022, which removed constitutional protections for abortion. That decision fueled calls from Progressive members of Congress to expand the Supreme Court, an idea that President Biden has thus far rejected.
Currently, 32% of Americans say they support adding more justices to the court, while 31% oppose this idea.
There is a clear partisan split on this proposal. While 44% of 2020 Trump voters oppose the idea, and 24% of this group support it, 43% of 2020 Biden voters support adding more Justices to the Supreme Court, against 19% who oppose the idea.
65% of Americans say that future appointments to the Supreme Court will be an ‘extremely’ or ‘fairly’ important consideration for them in the upcoming 2024 Presidential Election, with almost identical numbers of Trump 2020 (70%) and Biden 2020 (71%) voters expressing this view.
In summary, our research finds Americans mostly support the Court’s latest rulings, while all Supreme Court Justices currently hold net positive favorability ratings. However, ideological differences over the Court exist, especially on lifetime appointments and the (currently purely hypothetical) prospect of increasing the number of Justices.
Thus, while Americans currently believe that the Court has become too politicized, the Court and its decisions, with a little over twelve months to go to a massively consequential Presidential Election, are likely to continue to shape national political debate all the way through the campaign.