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The Supreme Court's historically low approval ratings: 4 theories

The high court's favorability rating is at its lowest point in 25 years — a stark reversal from the recent past, when the court enjoyed near-universal popularity

The Supreme Court's favorability rating is at a 25-year low, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center. The survey shows that only 52 percent of Americans view the court favorably, and while Congress can only dream of such a stratospheric number, the court enjoyed an 80 percent approval rating as recently as 1994. Remarkably, a roughly equal percentage of Democrats and Republicans approve of the court, a rare show of agreement in this age of hyper-partisanship. Here, four theories about why the Supreme Court's popularity is waning:

1. The court has become increasingly politicized The downward approval trend reflects the perception that the court is no longer a disinterested, apolitical protector of the Constitution, but is instead influenced by party and ideology. The court in recent years has increasingly been drawn into the political arena, and President Obama has singled it out for criticism on several occasions. The president has taken particular umbrage at Citizens United, a decision that allowed unlimited corporate spending in elections.

2. Americans no longer trust the government The court has fallen victim to a broader erosion of the public's trust in government. "Washington institutions have lost support in recent years," says Carroll Doherty, Pew's associate director.

3. Democrats are mad about the court's views on ObamaCare The Pew poll was conducted after the court heard oral arguments in March over ObamaCare, the president's landmark overhaul of the U.S. health care system. Conservative justices expressed skepticism about the constitutionality of the law, possibly contributing to a 13-point drop in Democratic approval of the court from two years ago.

4. Republicans are mad over Obama's appointees Republican approval ratings actually increased by 4 percentage points since 2010. But in 2009, before Obama nominated Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the court, 70 percent of Republicans (as opposed to 56 percent this year) had favorable views of the court. 

Sources: Bloomberg NewsThe Christian Science MonitorThe Hill, The Huffington Post, International Business Times

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