WASHINGTON – Democratic support for the Supreme Court plummeted over the summer, according to a poll released Wednesday that was conducted in the wake of a controversial decision allowing Texas to ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.
Nationwide approval of the high court fell to 49% in September, down from 60% two months earlier, according to the Marquette University Law School poll. That decline was driven largely by Democrats, whose support for the court nose-dived 22 points.
The decline followed a string of contentious decisions over the summer, including a ruling this month that let stand – for now – a Texas law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. The ruling in that case has fanned progressive criticism of the court and raised questions about its fidelity to its landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.
The nation's highest court also struck down President Joe Biden's effort to extend an eviction moratorium during the COVID-19 pandemic and throttled a Biden initiative to unwind a Trump-era policy requiring asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their cases are considered by immigration courts.
"Whatever people might have seen as moderation on the court over the past year was followed by these three rulings right in a row and close together that all took a conservative tilt, if you will," said Charles Franklin, the poll's director.
Republican support held about even, up 4 points from July.
The latest poll, which closely tracks a Quinnipiac University survey last week, comes at a precarious moment for the Supreme Court – as several of its members, including Associate Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Stephen Breyer, have sought to defend against mounting criticism on the left that its decisions are being driven by politics.
"My goal today is to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks," Barrett said at a University of Louisville event this month to celebrate the anniversary of a center named after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
In the months that followed Barrett's confirmation, the court frequently turned out decisions with larger-than-expected majorities that rarely fit neatly within the six conservative, three liberal justice paradigm often portrayed in the media. But as its previous term ended in July, the court handed down two 6-3 decisions that upended that narrative.
In one, the court upheld an Arizona law that limits how voters may return absentee ballots, weakening the 1965 Voting Right Act. In another, it permitted two conservative charities to keep their donors anonymous, raising questions about its commitment to longstanding disclosure requirements in the realm of campaign finance.
But given the timing, it was likely the Texas abortion case that had the most significant impact on Democratic views of the court. That decision was handed down around midnight on Sept. 1, and Marquette began polling respondents days later. The Justice Department sued Texas over the law on Sept. 9 as polling continued, a move that kept the six-week ban front and center in media coverage.
The Marquette poll also delves into several of the key cases pending at the Supreme Court in the coming months, including a challenge to Mississippi's ban on most abortions after 15 weeks and a case that could expand the right to carry handguns in public.
Two in 10 Americans favor overturning Roe, compared with half who oppose the idea, and nearly a third who said they hadn't formed an opinion, the poll showed. Forty percent said they favor upholding Mississippi's law, compared with about a third who said they would support a court decision declaring the Mississippi law unconstitutional.
On guns, 44% favor a decision allowing people to carry outside the home, compared with 26% who would oppose such a ruling and 29% who said they hadn’t heard enough about the issue to form an opinion.
The poll surveyed 1,411 adults nationwide Sept. 7-16 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Contributing: Patrick Marley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Mary Ramsey, Louisville Courier Journal
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Poll: Dem opinion of Supreme Court nosedives after Texas abortion case