US Supreme Court begins session amid crisis of public trust

Recent survey finds just 47 percent of Americans trust US top court, which is taking up new set of contentious cases.

The US Supreme Court building in Washington, DC
As the court begins a new session, public trust in the institution has hit record lows, a recent poll showed [File: Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters]

The US Supreme Court has begun a new session with public confidence in its work at an all-time low, according to a recent poll, as the top court’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion continues to divide the United States.

The Supreme Court began a new term on Monday, hearing arguments in an environmental dispute, welcoming a history-making justice to the bench and taking up some new cases to be decided in the next nine months.

But late last week, a Gallup survey found that just 47 percent of Americans trusted the institution — down from the previous low of 53 percent, and 20 percentage points lower than two years ago.

A record-high 58 percent of respondents also said they disapproved of the Supreme Court’s work, according to the poll.

The findings come as the Supreme Court is more diverse than ever, Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett reported on Monday from Washington, DC, where new Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first Black woman to serve on the bench.

“[Brown Jackson] is only the third … African American [who] has sat on this court, which is significant in and of itself. The makeup of the court now looks more like the United States,” said Halkett, adding that the Supreme Court still has a conservative majority, however.

While conservative and liberal justices have continued to insist that the body is not political, the court’s perceived impartiality has suffered since it overturned its landmark Roe v Wade abortion rights decision in June.

That ruling set off condemnation and mass protests by reproductive rights advocates across the US, as well as a wave of restrictive abortion laws in Republican-led states.

It also fuelled calls among Democrats and other legal observers to expand the number of seats on the top court as a way to balance against its conservative stance.

According to the recent Gallup poll, 71 percent of Democrats said the Supreme Court was “too conservative”, as did 46 percent of independents. A majority of Republicans, meanwhile, said the court’s ideology was “about right”.

That polarisation shows few signs of abating, with the court’s 6-3 conservative majority expected to hear cases on several contentious topics during the upcoming session, such as gay rights, racial justice, elections, and environmental protection.

On Monday, the court heard arguments in a case that could limit the scope of a landmark federal environmental law — the Clean Water Act of 1972 — as they consider for a second time a married Idaho couple’s bid to build on property that the US government has deemed a protected wetland.

Another case scheduled for this term involves a website designer who has argued that their religious beliefs are being violated by equal protection laws that deny companies the right to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Another case could have substantial implications for the US electoral system, handing more power over the process to state legislatures.

This comes amid rising concerns over the future of US elections as a growing number of Republican candidates have embraced false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies