A recent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University found that 71 percent of young Americans, ages 18 to 34, believe that the Supreme Court is “mainly motivated by politics.” According to the same poll, only 25 percent of young Americans believe the Court is “mainly motivated by the law.”
The perception of the Supreme Court as a politically motivated body is a threat to America’s democratic and institutional norms. From an institutional perspective, the Court’s validity is rooted in its respect for the law and its ability to reach principled decisions. If that validity comes into question, the legitimacy of the Court and its decisions will also be questioned, propelling the nation into an unprecedented crisis. This potential legitimacy crisis may also tempt the political branches to alter the federal courts in a way that is seen as politically favorable, further eroding the public’s faith in the judiciary’s independence.
The Supreme Court’s legitimacy as an independent body of law must be reaffirmed. Presidential candidates, the news media and other public voices should ensure that the narrative surrounding the work of the Court is verified and based in fact rather than political messaging. All individuals in America’s public sphere must avoid the temptation to appease political frustrations by degrading democratic institutions.