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Supreme Court’s Favorability Falls to Quarter-Century Low

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
U.S. President Barack Obama, left, welcomes Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court justice, to a reception at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 12, 2009. Photographer: Gary Fabiano/Pool via Bloomberg

The public’s assessment of the U.S. Supreme Court fell to its lowest level in more than a quarter-century, according to a poll released less than two months before the justices are expected to rule on health care and illegal immigration cases.

The court’s favorability rating dropped to 52 percent, down six percentage points from 2010 and down 28 points from its peak of 80 percent in 1994, according to the April 4-15 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Support for the court was below 60 percent among Republicans, Democrats and independents alike. The court has been a center of attention during Barack Obama’s presidency with the appointments of Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan and the three-day argument in March on the president’s health-care overhaul.

“On the Republican side, they see Democratic justices being appointed to the court, and on the Democratic side, there seems to be at least some effect of the hearings on the health-care law,” said Carroll Doherty, Pew’s associate director. “You’re seeing this confluence now of partisan agreement.”

The rating is the lowest for the high court since Pew began conducting its Supreme Court surveys in 1987. A 1985 Roper poll put the court’s approval at 64 percent. This year’s Pew poll was conducted among 1,514 adults nationwide reached by telephone and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

The slide in the court’s favorability rating accompanies a broader decline in Americans’ trust in government, Doherty said. “Washington institutions have lost support in recent years,” he said.

The justices probably will rule in late June in their two highest-profile cases this term -- a challenge by 26 states to the health-care law and a Justice Department effort to overturn Arizona’s illegal-immigration crackdown.

Among supporters of the health-care law, 52 percent held a favorable view of the court, compared with 55 percent for opponents of the law, the poll found.

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