AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The Supreme Court has been in the headlines a lot in recent weeks. First, there's the legal tug-of-war over access to the drug mifepristone, which could put the issue of abortion before the court again. And then, of course, we have the recent revelations about the court's most conservative justice, Clarence Thomas, who had failed to disclose luxury gifts and deals worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. With all that going on, today a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds that Americans have soured on SCOTUS. NPR's Domenico Montanaro joins us now to talk through the numbers and the ethics questions surrounding the court. Hey, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey - glad to be here, Ailsa.
CHANG: Glad to have you. OK. So let's start with the poll. What is it telling us about how people are feeling about the Supreme Court?
MONTANARO: Well, people are really down on the court. Sixty-two percent have little to no confidence in it, and 68% say that they're against lifetime appointments. This level of confidence is the lowest we've seen in the five years since Marist has been asking this question. And it continues a downward trend we've seen of trust and confidence in what was one of the most revered institutions in the country.
CHANG: Well, I imagine that last year's Dobbs ruling, which overturned the right to an abortion, explains a lot of the most recent downward trend in confidence. So I'm curious, Domenico. What's the partisan divide that you're seeing in this confidence in the court?
MONTANARO: Well, just a quarter of Democrats and only 39% of independents say that they have at least a good deal of confidence in the court. But a majority of Republicans do have confidence in the court - not surprising considering the...
MONTANARO: ...Many victories the 6-3 conservative majority has delivered for conservatives on really a host of thorny issues.
CHANG: Well, also, the ethics issues for Justice Thomas probably have some effect...
CHANG: ...On these numbers that we're seeing, right? Like, what, if anything, is being done about that at the court so far?
MONTANARO: It doesn't appear much at this point at the Supreme Court. You know, it's pretty remarkable considering Thomas did not disclose a plethora of luxury gifts from a conservative Texas billionaire as well as a property deal for a home Thomas owned where his mother still lives in Georgia. You know, watchdog groups believe Thomas really knew better because he used to disclose these kinds of things for years until an LA Times story two decades ago spotlighted his financial disclosures and the kinds of gifts that he had received. Part of the problem here is that the Supreme Court does not have a code of ethics, and Thomas is claiming he wasn't sure what was supposed to be disclosed.
CHANG: Well, Senate Democrats, I know, have asked the chief justice, John Roberts, to testify to try to rectify this. Is there any indication that Roberts will testify?
MONTANARO: It doesn't seem likely. You know, Roberts instead has referred the request to the secretary of the U.S. Judicial Conference. And the judicial conference is this hundred-year-old organization that consists of the senior members from each of the courts, and they essentially write the rules of the road for ethics for federal judges. But remember; those rules don't apply to the Supreme Court Justices. Here was Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, on "Meet The Press" on Roberts' non-response response.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")
DICK DURBIN: Well, I don't view that as an official response. And we're still waiting for the chief justice to answer my invitation. I think that's the first step that ought to be taken - that the Supreme Court itself, with its leader, the chief justice, make it clear that they are going to bring reform when it comes to ethics to the court and spell out what they're going to do.
MONTANARO: Yeah, and there's a degree of irony here, Ailsa. If Durbin were to ask for the presiding officer of the judicial conference to testify, that would be none other than Chief Justice John Roberts. That's because the chief justice in his role basically helps oversee the group - so round and round we go here.
CHANG: That is NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thank you, Domenico.
MONTANARO: You're welcome.
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