We all know that the president and U.S. Congress have low ratings in public opinion polls from time to time.
They are elected officials.
If they don’t expect their popularity to wane, they are unfit to run for their high school student council, much less anything higher.
But a recent poll gauging the popularity, or lack of popularity, of a group of unelected officials is far more disturbing than the latest thermometer readings from Gallup, Harris or Zogby.
For the first time in the 25 years that the Pew Research Center has asked the question, the United States Supreme Court has hit bottom.
Only 52 percent of the American people have a favorable opinion of the nation’s highest court. That’s down from 64 percent three years ago and 80 percent in 1994.
That strikes me as much more than the populace calling out the current Gang of Nine. That’s a direct hit on the institution.
Like a heat-seeking missile, the people are saying there’s something wrong, either substantively or symbolically, with the one branch of the federal government that used to be considered unassailable.
The Supreme Court building in Washington sits on a hill with an imposing number of marble steps leading to the columns that hold up those four fragile words, “Equal justice under law.”
From secondary school civics class on, we are indoctrinated to view the Gang of Nine as the wise old owls perched up on that hill, dispensing definitive answers to complicated questions with the sagacity of the ages.
In recent years, however, with the increasingly fractured political landscape and mass media willing to exploit real or imagined drama for fun and profit, the American judiciary, especially the federal judiciary, has become a scapegoat for many social ills.
The idea of having judges appointed for life unless they are found guilty of extreme misconduct or become incapacitated is to take the temptation of political chicanery out of the picture.
Judges who have to run for office at lower levels of the judiciary sometimes carry the stigma of being subject to influence peddling.
They are also subject to being kicked out of office in the next election if a horde of citizens figures old "judge so-and-so" is getting senile on the basis of a ruling unfavorable to their single-issue agenda.
Unfortunately, even the sanest and most intelligent among us are hardly knowledgeable about constitutional basics, let alone able to analyze a Supreme Court ruling with clarity and insight.
So, the left gripes about Antonin Scalia being a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal and Clarence Thomas, who never asks questions during oral arguments, being a waste of law school training.
And the right gripes about the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, that bastion of hippies, dopers and gays, handing out rulings that will destroy western civilization as we know it.
While conservatives complain frequently about appointments of so-called liberal judges who make their own laws from the bench instead of interpreting the laws, the Pew Center’s most interesting finding shows the Supreme Court’s popularity slump is totally bipartisan.
Only 56 percent of Republicans hold the high court in high esteem, compared with 52 percent of both Democrats and independents.