If it seemed to you as though certain Supreme Court justices were injecting politics into their questions during last month's high-stakes oral arguments in the Obamacare case, you're not alone... and that should worry you.
A new poll shows that half of Americans think the justices will make their decisions based on partisan politics rather than the Constitution or the text of the law.
By all accounts, the scene last month did indeed feature highly-charged political elements as certain conservative justices parroted Republican talking points on the law, while barely touching on precedents, merits, or facts. Coming a mere two years after the Court's infamous Citizens United decision, last month's proceedings seemed all the more political.
But even taken together, those comments and that decision don't fully explain why the American public is so seemingly willing to believe that politics have invaded the once-inviolate halls of the nation's most important legal institution. Even some of the most contentious decisions going back to Bush v. Gore only hint at the full scope of the Supreme Court's integrity crisis. The problem goes beyond the Court’s decisions.
For the last several years, some Supreme Court justices have behaved in ways that little by little have chipped away at the public trust. One fundraiser at a time, one hunting trip at a time, one incomplete ethics disclosure at a time, one top-secret Koch-sponsored retreat at a time, the justices have lowered the wall separating their decisions from the forces of partisan politics.
If you've seen this pattern of erosion, you're not alone, as this new poll shows. Many Americans now believe that the Court -- whose members serve for life -- lacks the integrity to stand apart from the tempestuous politics of the moment. That should worry all of us.
Last year, Alliance for Justice produced a documentary film on the topic of judicial ethics. Watching the film today, it's not hard to see how the nation has reached the point where it's so easy to believe that the justices have become "politicians in robes." The ethics reforms we call for in our film could go a long way toward dispelling the cloud over the Roberts Court.