Survey: More Americans, especially Republicans, disapprove of Roberts

Jessica M. Karmasek Jul. 18, 2012, 11:55am


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Americans' opinions of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts are more negative than they were seven years ago, according to a recent Gallup poll.

The most recent survey comes soon after Roberts joined the four Democratic appointees on the nation's high court in upholding President Barack Obama's controversial federal health care law.

Across the board, 39 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Roberts, compared to 29 percent who have an unfavorable view, according to a Gallop poll done last week.

Compare that to a similar survey done in September 2005: 50 percent of Americans had a favorable view of the chief justice, while just 17 percent had an unfavorable view.

Roberts, who is considered a conservative, was nominated to the Court in 2005 by then-President George W. Bush, a Republican.

Soon after, following the death of William Rehnquist, he was nominated for the job of chief justice.

In its poll results released Tuesday, Gallop noted that it did not measure Americans' opinions of Roberts between September 2005 and its most recent survey, conducted July 9-12.

"It is a reasonable assumption, however, that a good deal of the shift in attitudes occurred as a result of the June 28 Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, a ruling whose majority opinion was written by Roberts," the polling company said.

More than two years after Obama's Affordable Care Act was signed into law, the Court ruled 5-4 that most of it is constitutional.

In its highly-anticipated ruling, the Court said the controversial provision of the health care reform requiring individuals to purchase insurance or face a financial penalty is a constitutional tax.

The individual mandate imposed a $695 annual penalty on individuals who did not purchase health insurance. Obama's own budget director said in February that the mandate was not a tax.

"The Affordable Care Act's requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax," Roberts wrote.

"Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness."

Roberts was joined in the majority by Obama-appointees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, as well as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Voting against the act were justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

Even more significant is a drop in support of Roberts by Republicans, according to the Gallop poll.

The most recent survey found 27 percent of Republicans have a favorable opinion of the chief justice, while 44 percent have an unfavorable view.

Compare that to the 2005 poll in which 67 percent of Republicans had a favorable opinion of Roberts and only 4 percent had an unfavorable opinion.

Democrats, on the other hand, now have a more favorable view of the chief justice.

According to the recent Gallop poll, 54 percent currently approve of Roberts, compared to 19 percent who have an unfavorable view.

Now, compare that to the poll taken seven years ago: 35 percent of Democrats had a favorable opinion of the chief justice at the time, while 31 percent had an unfavorable view of him.

Republicans' opinions of the Court as a whole also have plummeted, the recent Gallop poll found.

"Twenty-nine percent of Republicans now approve of the Court's job performance, down from 50 percent, while disapproval has doubled to 64 percent from 32 percent," the polling company said.

As for Democrats, their attitudes have flipped in the opposite direction, with approval rising to 68 percent from 46 percent, last week's survey found.

According to the poll, independents' attitudes have stayed roughly the same, as have the views of all Americans combined.

"These views may mellow over time as the immediacy of the June 28 decision on the health care law fades. Plus, next year's Supreme Court docket promises new decisions on a list of other potentially highly controversial issues," Gallop noted.

The results of the Gallop poll are based on telephone interviews conducted last week, with a random sample of 1,014 adults, ages 18 and older.

According to Gallop, the maximum margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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