Before the end of the month, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue its opinion on the signature legislative achievement of the Obama administration: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But whether the law passes constitutional muster or not, many Americans are going to suspect that politics had something to do with it.
That is a sad situation, even in an age when distrust of all institutions -- in and outside government -- is at a peak. But the findings of a recent public opinion poll by The New York Times and CBS News show how far the rot of cynicism has spread.
Just 44 percent of those polled approve of the job the Supreme Court is doing. Three-quarters believe the justices are sometimes influenced by their personal or political views. These results chart a steady diminishment of the Supreme Court's public standing in the last quarter-century. The approval rating was 66 percent in the late 1980s.
This decline is arguably the natural consequence of politicians having tried to paint courts at all levels as dens of so-called political activism, complaints that began with conservatives but are now shared by liberals and moderates. The Supreme Court itself in recent years has handed down a series of disturbing decisions that encourage the perception that judicial activism is now an equal opportunity employer: Gore v. Bush, Citizens United and the Lilly Ledbetter case.
Is health care reform to be added to this list? Wouldn't it be reassuring if the conservatives and liberals on the court surprised us by reaching a fair and impartial decision, regardless of the outcome -- something with more consensus than the usual 5-4 ideological split, which would be just another log heaped on the fire of cynicism.
First Published June 12, 2012 12:00 AM