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7 in 10 Americans think Supreme Court justices put ideology over impartiality: AP-NORC poll

WASHINGTON (AP) — A solid majority of Americans say Supreme Court justices are more likely to be guided by their own ideology rather than serving as neutral arbiters of government authority, a new poll finds, as the high court is poised to rule on major cases involving former President Donald Trump and other divisive issues.

The survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 7 in 10 Americans think the high court’s justices are more influenced by ideology, while only about 3 in 10 U.S. adults think the justices are more likely to provide an independent check on other branches of government by being fair and impartial.

The poll reflects the continued erosion of confidence in the Supreme Court, which enjoyed broader trust as recently as a decade ago. It underscores the challenge faced by the nine justices — six appointed by Republican presidents and three by Democrats — of being seen as something other than just another element of Washington’s hyper-partisanship.

The justices are expected to decide soon whether Trump is immune from criminal charges over his efforts to overturn his 2020 reelection defeat, but the poll suggests that many Americans are already uneasy about the justices’ ability to rule impartially.

“It’s very political. There’s no question about that,” said Jeff Weddell, a 67-year-old automotive technology sales representative from Macomb County, in presidential swing-state Michigan.

“The court’s decision-making is so polluted,” said Weddell, a political independent who plans to vote for Trump in November. “No matter what they say on President Trump’s immunity, this will be politically motivated.”

Confidence in the Supreme Court remains low. The poll of 1,088 adults found that 4 in 10 U.S. adults say they have hardly any confidence in the people running the Supreme Court, in line with an AP-NORC poll from October. As recently as early 2022, before the high-profile ruling that overturned the constitutional right to abortion, an AP-NORC poll found that only around one-quarter of Americans lacked confidence in the justices.

And although the Supreme Court’s conservative majority has handed down some historic victories for Republican policy priorities over the past few years, rank-and-file Republicans aren’t giving the justices a ringing endorsement.

It’s been two years since the court’s ruling on abortion rights. Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — Trump nominees confirmed by a Republican Senate — were part of the majority that overturned the near-50-year abortion-rights precedent established in Roe v. Wade.

This year’s term, with a dozen cases still undecided, has already seen some major rulings. Earlier in June, the Supreme Court unanimously preserved access to the pharmaceutical drug mifepristone, a medication used in nearly two-thirds of all abortions in the U.S. last year. The same week, the court struck down a Trump-era gun restriction, a ban on rapid-fire gun accessories known as bump stocks, a win for gun-rights advocates.

Only about half of Republicans have a great deal or a moderate amount of confidence in the court’s handling of important issues, including gun policy, abortion, elections and voting, and presidential power and immunity, according to the new poll.

“I don’t have a lot of faith in the Supreme Court. And that’s unfortunate because that’s the final say-so, the final check and balance on our three-branch government,” said Matt Rogers, a 37-year-old Republican from Knoxville, Tennessee.

Other Republicans share that mistrust, although the court’s current makeup is more conservative than any court in modern history. They are also split on whether the justices are more driven by personal ideology or impartiality, with about half of Republicans saying the justices are more likely to shape the law to fit their own ideology, and another half saying they are likelier to be an independent check on their co-equal branches.

“I think they are getting influenced and pressured by a lot of people and a lot of entities on the left,” said Rogers, a health and wellness trainer who plans to vote for Trump a third time this year. “Let’s be honest. It’s anything to crucify Trump.”

Some Republicans have less confidence in the court’s handling of specific issues than others. The poll found, for instance, that about 6 in 10 Republican women have little to no confidence in the court’s handling of presidential power and immunity, compared to 45% of Republican men.

Janette Majors, a Republican from Ridgefield, Washington, says it’s only natural for a justice to reflect the ideology of the president who nominated them.

But episodes outside the Supreme Court chambers have made her less confident in the people running the court.

“What you hear about Clarence Thomas, taking trips paid for by rich people, makes me think there are some individuals there that don’t sound like I should trust them,” Majors said, referring unprompted to reports that Thomas has for years received undisclosed expensive gifts, including travel, from GOP megadonor Harlan Crow.

Democrats and independents are even more skeptical of the court’s neutrality, according to the poll.

About 8 in 10 Democrats — and about 7 in 10 independents — say the justices are more likely to shape the law to fit their own ideology. A similar share has little or no confidence at all in the court’s handling of abortion, gun policy and presidential power and immunity.

Michigan Democrat Andie Near noticed that the court seemed to become a political tool in 2016, when then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow hearings on Democratic President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

McConnell quickly allowed hearings after Trump nominated Gorsuch within 10 days of taking office in 2017.

“I had thought the court, though maybe skewing left or right, was serving the whole body of the country,” the 42-year-old museum registrar from Holland, Michigan, said. “That’s when it brought to high relief that the Supreme Court is being used to skew the political environment we live in, and it’s only gotten worse.”


The poll of 1,088 adults was conducted June 20-24, 2024, using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points.


Beaumont reported from Des Moines, Iowa.

Thomas Beaumont And Linley Sanders, The Associated Press