Few Conservatives Believe SCOTUS Is Conservative

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 25 2013 1:43 PM

Conservatives and Liberals Agree: SCOTUS Isn't on Their Side

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Tourists stand in front of the Supreme Court in Washington on March 24, 2013 as people begin lining up for the court's upcoming coming hearings on gay marriage

Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

A sizeable chunk of Americans who fall within in their own party's base are convinced that the Supreme Court's ideological beliefs run counter to their own. While that fact isn't exactly a surprise, it's worth remembering this week as the high court hears arguments in a pair of potentially landmark gay marriage cases.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

As you can see in the chart below from Pew, a plurality (40 percent) of Americans see the Roberts court as relatively moderate, with nearly equal numbers viewing it as conservative or liberal. But when you break those numbers down by the respondent's self-described political ideology, it becomes clear that the farther you move away from the center of the political spectrum the more likely that a respondent believes the justices are playing for the other team. In other words, expect plenty of fretting later this week from those on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate that the court will rule against them.

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But just because the American public can't agree on whether the Roberts court is conservative or liberal doesn't mean court watchers and legal experts are equally split as well. The Supreme Court is generally considered to lean right given both its current 5-4 majority of GOP-appointed justices and its track record. But conservative and liberal are, of course, relative terms, so the Pew survey doesn't necessarily suggest that conservatives are unaware of where the current court fits in historically as much as it shows they prefer that the court were simply more conservative.

Conservatives, however, have grown increasingly unhappy with the court in the past half decade as President Obama added Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the bench, a displeasure that only grew after the court's decision last summer to uphold Obamacare, a ruling that left many conservatives wondering just how conservative Chief Justice John Roberts is:

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While SCOTUS has seen its historically strong favorability rating fall in recent years—with 52 percent of Americans approving compared to only 31 percent disapproving—the high court still boasts the best split among the federal government's three branches. Full Pew results here.

***Follow @JoshVoorhees and the rest of the @slatest team on Twitter.***

This post has been updated for the sake of clarity.

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