Study Finds SCOTUS Not as Liberal as Some People Think

While both sides of the ideological spectrum constantly accuse the Supreme Court’s justices of pushing political agendas, a new study revealed that, actually, the SCOTUS may be more centrist-slash-right-leaning than the public thinks.

The study, published in the National Law Journal, set out to discover how the court’s rulings reflected public opinion by asking participants to give their assessment of where the 11 justices in the Roberts Court fell on the ideological spectrum, and how they themselves would have ruled on a random selection of Supreme Court cases.

“You can’t say whether the court itself is liberal or conservative,” Malhotra explained in the Journal. “All you can say objectively is, is the Supreme Court representative? And overall, it is — yes. It’s somewhat more conservative than mass opinion, but almost everyone is within one standard deviation of the court’s position.”

While the study’s co-authors, Neil Malhotra and Stephen Jessee, discovered that 41% of the respondents viewed the court’s decisions as “just right,” those who didn’t tended to view the court as either too liberal (33%) or too conservative (26%). Furthermore, people who “misperceived” the court were ten times more likely to call the court “too liberal.”

The study’s co-authors concluded that this misperception was likely, as always, the media’s fault:

“Even though the court, often through Anthony Kennedy‘s pivotal vote, has generally exhibited similar preferences to those of the American public, much of the rhetoric around the court highlights particular rulings that are anathema to Republicans, including recent decisions to uphold race-based affirmative action, repeal anti-sodomy laws, sanction key parts of Obamacare and require civilian trials for enemy combatants, among others,” the researchers write.

“There’s sort of a stereotypical image of the Warren Court [as liberal] that is a cultural mindset people have,” Malhotra said. “We’re speculating it’s kind of hard to dislodge that image. The media also tend to cover cases where the court does something unexpected — often a liberal position. If people are getting a lot of exposure to conservative media, that can also make people think the court is more liberal.”

The study also discovered that, unsurprisingly, people who don’t know what the heck is going on in the courts were more likely to misperceive the court’s political preferences. “They kind of don’t know what’s going on. They should be viewing the court as too conservative,” said Malhotra.

[National Law Journal]
[Image via Shutterstock]

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