A new Newsweek/Daily Beast poll of likely voters shows that 50% disapprove of the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act as a whole, compared to 45% who support it. Survey respondents disapprove of the decision to uphold the individual health insurance mandate specifically by a larger 49-38 margin.
This is a significantly smaller anti-mandate majority than the 65-70% who said they wanted the Court to strike down the mandate in polls conducted before the decision was handed down. The difference may well be the result of the fact that a substantial minority of the public will tend to assume that any decision the Court makes is likely to be right unless they have very strong personal feelings on the subject.
Nonetheless, this result undermines the notion that the ruling will be a boost to the Court’s legitimacy or that its public image would have suffered had it ruled the other way. It’s unlikely that the Court’s legitimacy improved much in the eyes of anyone but committed liberals and legal academics.
To avoid misunderstanding, I will repeat what I have said many times before: public opinion about a court decision says very little about whether the ruling is right or wrong. Popular rulings are sometimes badly misguided (consider Korematsu v. United States, which was extremely popular at the time), and unpopular ones can be correct (the flag burning cases are a good example).
I do not believe that the Court should decide cases based on the perceived effects on its “legitimacy.” But for those who disagree, the individual mandate decision was not the great triumph that some imagine it to be.