Supreme Court Joins Other Institutions Facing Dwindling Public Confidence

Faith in the U.S. Supreme Court has taken a hit.

And the Nation's top court is not the only place Americans are eyeing with skepticism of late. Confidence in government as a whole, the nation's medical system, and its criminal justice system are all on the decline.

As Justice Stephen Breyer is set to retire from the higher court, 54 percent of people who participated in a Gallup poll in September 2021 said they had a "great deal" or "fair amount" of confidence in the judicial branch headed by the Supreme Court compared to 67 percent in September of 2020.

In the past five decades, there has only been one other year, 2015, where poll participants' confidence in the Supreme Court was below 60 percent.

The poll found that 53 percent of participants in September 2021 disapproved of the higher court is handling its job, a nine percent increase from July of the same year. Just 40 percent approve of the way the Supreme Court is doing its job, the poll shows.

"It's really interesting because the court has traditionally enjoyed some of the highest levels of prestige and approval among the different branches of government," said Maya Sen, a political scientist and professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, according to The Associated Press. "It's still much more popular than Congress."

Supreme Court, Decreased Public Confidence, Poll Results
The public trust in the government is low, with a moving average of 24 percent of the general public trusting the government, according to Pew Reseach. In this photo, the U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 31, 2017. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Justice Sonia Sotomayer told NBC News that she and other justice are considering ways to "comport" themselves to ensure the public's confidence in what they're doing when asked about the Gallup poll's results.

"One of the hardest things about our work is that there are no easy answers," Sotomayor said, NBC News reported. "Reasonable people can disagree ... Obviously, just as the larger society disagrees about the answers to some of our problems, so does the court. And if you bear that in mind, perhaps the public can be more accepting of the kind of work we do."

Other institutions are seeing reductions in confidence, as well. A Gallup poll shows that 44 percent of participants in 2021 have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the medical system, compared to 51 percent in 2020. Banks also saw a decrease in confidence, with 33 percent of participants in 2021 having a great deal of confidence in them, while 38 percent had the same amount in 2020.

Twenty percent of participants in 2021 had a great deal of confidence in the criminal justice system, the lowest it has been in over 10 years, the poll shows.

The public trust in the government is low, too, with a moving average of 24 percent of the general public trusting the government, according to Pew Research.

Sallie Hughes, a professor and associate dean for Global Initiatives at the Miami University School of Communication, had said the lack of trust and poor performance is linked, according to Miami University.

"Inequality has been growing in the U.S. and around the world. Other issues—such as climate change—are not being adequately addressed," Hughes said, Miami University reported. "When people sense they are not advancing, resources are being distributed unfairly, policy is failing, and/or leaders are benefiting unfairly or unethically, distrust increases."