According to the latest Harvard Public Opinion Project survey, young Americans trust the Supreme Court more than any other individual branch of government. Compared with 27 and 13 points for the president and Congress, respectively, the Supreme Court boasts the trust of 31 percent of 18-24 year olds “most of the time.” This begs the obvious question: how does the least democratic body hold the highest trust of young people in our democracy?
The Court’s recent history only makes the question more confusing. During the lifetime of most young Americans, the Court has issued some of the most controversial and consequential decisions in its history. At the turn of the century, the Court gave George W. Bush the presidency in a hotly contested decision, to say the least. More recently, some of the Court’s major decisions fundamentally affected the lives of many Americans. Specifically, the Citizens United v. FEC decision opened the floodgates to massive amounts of outside spending during the election process. Many fear that this explosion of campaign cash will endanger democracy and make politicians even more beholden to the wealthy.
The Roberts Court may be the most conservative court in decades, with some of the most conservative justices the Court has ever seen on the bench. Moreover, the it favors business and business interests more than any court on record. Meanwhile, according to the survey, 31 percent of all respondents consider themselves “moderate” and 37 percent consider themselves “moderate leaning liberal or liberal.” This means either that the Court holds trust across the political spectrum rather than just within the conservative camp.
This may show that the political leanings of the Court do not necessarily jeopardize millennials’ trust in it. Alternatively, it could also offer invaluable insight into the hierarchy of issues in the eyes of young Americans. The Court has issued decisions right-of-center on many issues pertaining to business, elections, and gun control. On the other hand, it has also delivered key victories for marriage equality and gay rights. The Lawrence v. Texas decision in 2003 struck down Texas’ controversial anti-sodomy law, and the Courts’ decision in United States v. Windsor made significant strides toward national marriage equality by declaring Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.
Marriage equality has gained support across the political spectrum, finding its strongest support amongst young Americans. If we look at trust in the Court as a function of the political leanings of decisions, we observe two key findings: first, that business issues and other controversial issues the Court has touched upon must not resonate strongly with young Americans. Second, that marriage equality stands as one of the most significant issues of our generation.