A new Rasmussen poll reveals that 60% of Americans believe the Supreme Court justices have political agendas. The sentiment is at about the same percent regardless of party affiliation. Only 31% of respondents said the court is doing a good or excellent job.

I’m not surprised by this poll at all. After decades of politicizing the judiciary (including the famed nuclear option battle in 2005), is it any surprise that Americans would see the high court as a political body? While politicization of the judiciary has a long and well known history, we have entered into an era when a justice’s politics seem to be far more important than his or her intelligence, wisdom or qualifications.

Interest groups and politicians care about judicial philosophy only in so much as they care about the outcomes those philosophies are likely to create. Very few people really care if, for instance, Roe v Wade is good or bad law. They care only that the ruling remain precedent or be overturned as per their own personal views on abortion. This is a shame but hardly a surprise. We live in highly politicized times.

I do not know for sure if Supreme Court justices are advancing personal agendas from the bench. I suspect all nine have, to varying degrees, allowed personal political preference to shade their legal judgment. But I don’t know if the current nine are any more inclined to advance personal agendas than were justices of past courts.

The politicization of the High Court may be more a matter of perception rather than a deviation from historical trends. But don’t expect that perception to change anytime soon. Already, many are hard at work as they position the 2008 election as a battle for the Supreme Court.

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  1. Of course they are political–look who makes the appointments. And the more partisan the President, the more partisan–largely–has been the appointee.

    Now, there is nothing wrong, per se, about a judge reflecting the tenor of the president who appoints him–my problem is the caliber of the appointee. We have had some REAL stinkers the past two decades.

    It seems that each President picks one stinker.

    President’s have worked so hard to find appointees who can sneak under the radar they have ignored quality candidates. I mean, first he was going to nominate Harriet Meiers, an incredibly poor choice and he replaces her with Samuel Alito? Seriously, are you kidding me? Those were such bad choices that it’s amazing he picked John Roberts. who so far seems to be a very good choice.

    Then look at Clinton. Ginsberg seems incapable of looking at a case with anything but partisan eyes. Breyer seems to be pretty average.

    George HW Bush picked Clarence Thomas–I mean, come on. The guy shouldn’t be a lawyer, let alone a Supreme Court Justice. Souter has actually been pretty good.

    Reagan’s appointee Scalia….crap, that just scares me. O’Connor may have been one of the better Justices ever. How does the same guy pick these two?

  2. Every time there is a new nominee I wonder: if I can figure out that Roe v. Wade is bad law, while approving of the result, surely there are a couple of lawyers out there who can do so too. So why can’t (or won’t) any of them get nominated?

    Of course, I also wonder what the result would be if a nominee had the courage to stand up in confirmation hearingas and say: I am in favor of abortion being legal. But Roe v. Wade was a terrible excuse for a legal decsion — it’s just bad law.


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