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The Justices Doth Protest Too Much

With the Supreme Court's public approval sinking to a new low, it is understandable that its members are publicly insisting on their objectivity and high-mindedness. But an institution that is elite by design should be wary of dabbling in populist politics.

CHICAGO – This week, the US Supreme Court begins its 2021 term amid a buzz of speculation that it has lost the public’s confidence. A recent Gallup poll finds that only 40% of the public approves of the way the Court handles its job – the lowest level since the survey began in 2000 (when the Court had 62% support).

Some of the justices are concerned. Stephen Breyer, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Amy Coney Barrett have all recently made public statements insisting that the Court is not politicized – or as Barrett indelicately put it, “not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks.”

But public polling should be taken with a grain of salt. The Court’s reputation always fluctuates. Its approval has fallen near the 40% level in the past before recovering, and its current reputation is much better than that of the presidency, Congress, and most other federal institutions.

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