Poll: Supreme Court approval nosedives after leak of draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade

The new poll shows sliding support for the Supreme Court was especially pronounced among Democrats, who are more likely to be in favor of abortion rights.

John Fritze
  • About 44% of Americans approve of the job the Supreme Court is doing, according to the new poll.
  • That number is down 10 percentage points from March, when the poll was last conducted.
  • Support for the court among Republicans is up slightly.

WASHINGTON – Public approval of the Supreme Court tumbled sharply after a leaked draft opinion in a blockbuster abortion case indicated that the conservative wing of the court is considering overturning Roe v. Wade, according to a poll Wednesday.

About 44% of Americans approve of the way the nation's highest court is handling its job, down 10 points from March, the Marquette Law School poll showed. 

Associate Justice Samuel Alito's draft opinion, leaked to Politico earlier this month and later confirmed by the court, was the driving factor in the shift. The unprecedented leak set off protests across the nation, was applauded by anti-abortion advocates and reshuffled the political landscape heading into this November's midterm election. 

The survey was conducted from May 9 to May 19. 

"It is hard to escape the conclusion that the leaked draft opinion overturning Roe is at the center of this decline," said Charles Franklin, the poll's director.

Approval of the court rose about 4 percentage points among Republicans, who are more likely to embrace anti-abortion positions. But that wasn't enough to offset a huge, 23-point drop among Democrats. Among independents, approval dropped 6 points.

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With lifetime appointments for its members, the nine-justice Supreme Court was designed by the framers to be the one branch of government that doesn't respond to political pressure. At the same time, both liberal and conservative justices have discussed the importance of the court retaining its credibility as an impartial institution as Washington becomes increasingly partisan.

Protective fencing remains up around the Supreme Court building in anticipation of protests related to a possible decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case that could essentially overturn Roe v. Wade on May 24, 2022, in Washington, D.C. In a written opinion that was leaked, Associate Justice Samuel Alito argues that the landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion was "was egregiously wrong from the start."

That has been easier said than done as Republican-nominated justices have split with those nominated by Democratic presidents in cases dealing with COVID-19 vaccination requirements, election laws that some view as discriminatory and the death penalty. Six of the nine current justices were nominated by GOP presidents.  

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In its most divisive case in years, the court must decide whether to uphold Mississippi's ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The law contravenes Roe in 1973 and a subsequent ruling in 1992, Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Those decisions allowed people to obtain an abortion until about 24 weeks of pregnancy.

"Roe was egregiously wrong from the start," Alito wrote in the leaked opinion. "We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled."

The court confirmed the authenticity of the draft but stressed the decision was not final. A majority of the court appeared to leaning Mississippi's way at argument in December.

Marquette interviewed 1,004 adults nationwide. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points. 

Approval of the court fell to 49% in September, down from 60% two months earlier, in the wake of a decision allowing Texas to ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.