As happens so often with me these days, an article published by Robert Reich on March 31 alerted me to a problem that should concern all of us: the degradation of our Supreme Court. The court has no power to enforce its findings. All it has is public trust. It depends on the Congress and the White House to carry out its decisions. What happens when the court becomes so sullied that the public no longer trusts it?
Thanks primarily to Donald Trump and his Republican supporters assisted by Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Ginni, public trust in the court is at an all-time low. For example, in a national survey by Pew Research Center before Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement, only 54 percent of U.S. adults said they have a favorable opinion of the Supreme Court. Another survey conducted in January found that the share of adults with a favorable view of the court has recently declined by 15 percentage points. Other studies indicate that current views of the court are among the least positive in surveys dating back nearly four decades. Finally, in data reported by Forbes, less than 40 percent of Americans believe the U.S. Supreme Court is nonpartisan; only 37 percent think the court’s recent decisions demonstrate that it acts in a “serious and constitutionally sound manner;” a 47 percent plurality think the court is “split into parties, similar to Democrats and Republicans in Congress;” and a 72 percent majority want the Supreme Court to impose a code of ethics—while there’s one in place for federal judges in lower courts, Supreme Court justices aren’t bound by it.
These findings are merely the latest evidence of the profound damage inflicted by Trump and his Republican followers when they packed the court with second-rate jurists. Unless the administration and Congress move quickly to alter the structure of the Supreme Court—probably by increasing the number of justices so that the progressives balance out the conservatives—the damage will be profound and lasting.
It’s time for American citizens to write to the president and Congress and demand changes that will restore the court’s prestige and power.