A new poll found that a slim majority of Americans support expanding the Supreme Court as confidence in the institution remains low after a series of unpopular decisions.
In a Marquette Law School poll released Wednesday, 51% of respondents said they either strongly or somewhat favored increasing the number of justices on the Supreme Court, versus 49% who were strongly or somewhat opposed. Expansion was supported by 51% of independents, 72% of Democrats and just 27% of Republicans.
Expanding the court was favored by larger majorities of a number of groups: 63% of Black respondents, 61% of Hispanic respondents, 60+% of those ages 18-44, 60% of women and 56% of those making less than $30,000 per year.
The court, which has six Republican-appointed justices, has seen its approval steadily decline as it issues rulings out of step with popular opinion. The June decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and remove federal abortion protections for millions of Americans was favored by 30% of respondents to the Marquette poll, versus 61% who disapproved. This is in line with a Yahoo News/YouGov poll taken in the immediate aftermath of the ruling in which only 33% of respondents agreed with the court’s actions.
According to the Marquette poll, approval of the court has plummeted in just two years. In September 2020 it had 66% approval, versus 40% today. And 36% of respondents in the most recent poll expressed very little or no confidence at all in the institution, versus 16% who felt similarly two years ago.
Democrats have proposed a number of potential Supreme Court reforms in recent years, including expanding the court or adding term limits for the justices.
The decision to overturn abortion rights was immediately preceded by one that overturned a New York law requiring residents to show “proper cause” in order to carry a concealed handgun. That ruling was widely derided by Democrats across the nation. All six conservative justices ruled against New York, with the three liberals in dissent.
During last December’s oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case that led to Roe’s demise, Justice Sonia Sotomayor — an Obama appointee — warned that the court could lose legitimacy if it became seen as a political body.
“Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” Sotomayor said. “I don’t see how it is possible.”
“If people actually believe that it’s all political, how will we survive?” she continued. “How will the court survive?”
The court shifted to the right during Donald Trump’s presidency. Before Trump took office, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to hold a hearing for Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative stalwart who died in 2016.
The Republican-controlled Senate confirmed Neal Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh the following year. In the weeks before the 2020 election, McConnell pushed through the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, who replaced the late liberal jurist Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“My goal today is to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks,” Barrett said during an event last year at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville, while sharing a stage with the Republican senator for whom it was named.
Justice Clarence Thomas, another one of the court’s conservatives, has also defended the importance of its independence. Earlier this week, his wife, Ginni, agreed to speak to the House select committee investigating the events of Jan. 6, 2021, about her role in the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
In January, the Supreme Court ruled that Trump had to turn over materials he was attempting to shield from the same Jan. 6 committee. Of the nine justices, Thomas was the only one who said he would have granted Trump’s request to shield those documents.