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Supreme Court’s approval rating at 44%, poll says

Most say rulings are influenced by personal views

WASHINGTON - Just 44 percent of Americans surveyed approve of the job the Supreme Court is doing and three-quarters say the justices’ decisions are sometimes influenced by their personal or political views, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times and CBS News.

Those findings are a fresh indication that the court’s standing with the public has slipped significantly in the past quarter-century, according to surveys conducted by several polling organizations. Approval was as high as 66 percent in the late 1980s and more recently was near 50 percent.

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The decline in the court’s standing may stem in part from Americans’ growing distrust in recent years of major institutions in general and the government in particular. But it also could reflect a sense that the court is more political, after the ideologically divided 5-4 decisions in Bush v. Gore, which determined the 2000 presidential election, and in Citizens United, the 2010 decision that allowed unlimited campaign spending by corporations and unions.

“The results of this and other recent polls call into question two pieces of conventional wisdom,’’ said Lee Epstein, who teaches law and political science at the University of Southern California.

One is that the court’s approval rating has been stable over the years; the other is that it has been consistently higher than that of the other branches of government, Epstein said.

On the highest-profile issue now facing the court, the poll found that more than two-thirds of those surveyed hope that the justices overturn some or all of the 2010 health care overhaul law when they rule, probably this month. There was scant difference in the court’s approval rating between supporters and opponents of the law.

Either way, many Americans do not seem to expect the court to decide the case based solely along constitutional lines. Just one in eight of those polled said the justices decided cases based only on legal analysis.

“As far as the Supreme Court goes, judgments can’t be impersonal,’’ Vicki Bartlett, 57, an independent in Bremerton, Wash., said in a follow-up interview.

The nationwide poll is based on telephone interviews with 976 adults conducted May 31 through Sunday on landlines and cellphones and has a margin-of-sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The court was also expected to decide this month whether a tough Arizona immigration law conflicts with federal immigration laws and policies. Perhaps the most contested part of the state law is one that often requires the police there to check the immigration status of people they stop or arrest.

As a general matter, more than six in 10 of those surveyed said both the federal and state governments should play a role in addressing illegal immigration. A quarter said the federal government should have sole responsibility, and 11 percent said only state governments should address the matter.

One-third of respondents said the part of the Arizona law concerning checks for immigration status “goes too far,’’ and half said it was “about right.’’ Coverage of Supreme Court arguments in the case in April did not seem to affect public attitudes on the question, which have not changed since 2010.

The responses on immigration split along partisan and racial lines. About half of Democrats but only one in seven Republicans surveyed said the provision went too far. The survey did not have enough black and Hispanic respondents to make fine distinctions among racial and ethnic groups, but 46 percent of those who identified themselves as nonwhite said the provision went too far, compared with 28 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

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