Supreme Court leak shakes confidence in yet another American mainstay

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WASHINGTON — Is there a new American motto: We trust nothing?

By many measures, most in the US lack much trust in large institutions and have done so for years. Congress? Two big thumbs down. The presidency? eh. Americans are also wary of big business, unions, public schools, and organized religion. In fact, they have abysmal views on the workings of democracy itself.

The Supreme Court has been something of an exception. The only branch of government that does not depend on public opinion has traditionally enjoyed higher public esteem than the powers elected by the people. His reputation above the fray, cultivated with exquisite care, once served him well.

Now the judges face a reckoning the daring escape of a first draft ruling that overthrows the constitutional right to abortion, an episode that has deepened suspicions that the high court, with all its decorum, is populated by politicians in robes.

Republican members of Congress are suggesting a sinister leftist plot to derail the outcome of the final decision. Liberals allege machinations from the right to lock up the justices in their preliminary vote. For all those speculations, neither side knows who leaked the draft to Politico and why.

What is clear is that the matter has burst a bubble of deference around the court.

“My confidence in the court has been shaken,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, one of the few pro-choice Republican senators, said with alarm. Vice President Kamala Harris has accused the justices of mounting a “direct attack on freedom” if they vote as they have signaled. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., accused Trump’s nominees of lying to Congress about their views on abortion at their hearings.

Elected officials don’t normally talk this way about judges. But now, it seems, the jurists are fair game, just another contingent of power players in the pit of Washington vipers.

Instead, after mounting a fierce legal fight To resolve the implausibly close election of 2000, Democrat Al Gore contained his complaints about political corruption in court when he dashed his hopes in a decision that made Republican George W. Bush president.

Gore did not hesitate to “accept the finality of this result”, although he said he did not agree with it. The vas deferens was evident. But that decision was seen as the modern starting point in the erosion of confidence in the court.

In the years since, Democrats dismantled filibuster on one front to help them populate the lower federal courts with as many judges as possible, knowing they were setting a precedent that could affect them in the future.

Republicans then did the same to Supreme Court nominees in the judicial equivalent of nuclear escalation.

And there was Donald Trump. During his presidency, Trump specialized in what the political class knows as saying the quiet part out loud. This included his assessment of the judiciary as a political beast, made up of either Democratic or Republican judges.

For the judges, who have long wrapped themselves in the idea that politics is over once they take the bench, it was a step too far when Trump accused “Obama judges” of standing in his way and disparaged judges who did not like. .

“We don’t have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in an unusual statement. rebuking Trump’s comments. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges who go to great lengths to do the same right to those who appear before them.”

However, people in the United States have, in recent times, become suspicious of judicial independence, with a large majority believing that judges should keep their political views out of their decisions, but not even 1 in 5 respondents believing that they do an excellent or good job in this regard.

In 2020, Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett became the first judge in modern times to win confirmation without a single minority party vote. she is aware of what that looks like.

“My goal today is to convince you that this court is not made up of a bunch of partisan hackers,” he said. told an audience in Louisville, Kentucky, in September at a center named after Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who had engineered his speedy confirmation. Barrett was one of five justices to signal a dissenting vote in Roe v. Wade in the leaked draft, Politico said.

As controversial as the Roe v. Wade’s affirmation of abortion rights in 1973 and in the years since was not a decision driven by partisanship. The vote was 7-2, with five of the judges in the majority nominated by Republican presidents.

Now Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a liberal on the majority-conservative court, warns that a 50-year reversal of abortion rights would shatter the notion that American justice is blind to partisanship.

“Will this institution survive the stench this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” she asked in an abortion case in mississippi in December. She said that she thought she would not survive that.

Except when a monumental decision like this one on abortion comes out, or when Congress is weighing court candidates in their performance hearings, the Supreme Court works largely out of sight and out of mind. But in New York City, the leak got Sequoia Snyder thinking about court. Is it just one more institution that cannot be trusted?

“When you think about it, the power is not in the hands of the people,” the 22-year-old Snyder said. “We don’t vote on that. The Electoral College…the popular vote is ignored. The police are not highly regulated, they can do whatever they want with impunity.

“Like every facet of our society that you go to, we don’t really have the power or a voice. So I think it’s crazy that nine people have the final say on everything in the country and they can never lose their job. It just seems weird.

In Charleston, outside West Virginia’s only abortion clinic, Dennis Westover, a 72-year-old retired electrical engineer, sat in a lawn chair holding an anti-abortion sign. He too sees strange happenings at court.

“One side or the other did it for a political reason to cause some kind of scandal,” he said of the leak. “Human beings do what we do for what we think is a good reason. … Which was the reason? It couldn’t be good because you leaked inside information from the Supreme Court.”

in a Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey last month, only 18% of American adults said they have “a great deal” of trust in the Supreme Court. About 27% have little confidence in him.

Historically, the superior court has received better marks than the other branches and that is still the case. In the most recent poll, only 4% have a lot of confidence in Congress; 51% barely have. And 36% have little confidence in the executive branch.

Still, the court’s position has been deteriorating in recent years. The 2021 General Social Survey suggested that trust in the high court was among its lowest points in the last half century.

In September, a Gallup poll found that 54% said respondents had at least “a fair amount” of confidence in the court, up from 67% in 2020. Only once again in five decades has that confidence dipped below 60%. .

The government’s poor ratings are combined with a bleak view of American democracy and a disenchantment with the pillars of society almost everywhere.

Gallup has tracked public opinion from 14 core institutions across the spectrum (organized labor, the church, the media, the medical community among them) and found confidence in them sagging, with participation expressing high confidence never exceeding 36% on average for 15 years. Only the military and small businesses get a resounding vote of confidence.

Superimposed on everything is the feeling that the very foundations of the republic are in trouble. In January, 53% said in an AP-NORC poll that democracy in the US is not working well; only 8% thought it was working very or extremely well.

That state of affairs emanated from a 2020 election in which Trump fought fiercely and futilely to reverse Democrat Joe Biden’s clear victory in the White House. Trump’s bogus accusations of a rigged election have resonated across the country as the two parties clash over state election laws in response.

Yet in his effort to cling to power, Trump also faced the limits of political influence in the judiciary, as he and his campaign took a series of outlandish legal challenges to court only to have them systematically fail.

Trump’s “judges” did not save him.

Associated Press writer Leah Willingham in Charleston, West Virginia, contributed to this report.

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