Can the Supreme Court survive a health-care decision?

After it rules on the highly contested health-care debate and makes other momentous decisions this term, will the U.S. Supreme have sufficient stores of legitimacy to weather the inevitable backlash? Yes, but barely, says a professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis.

James Gibson

“The Supreme Court may make the ‘wrong’ decisions on health care and other issues this spring. But as a widely legitimate institution, the court will be able to make these decisions with impunity,” writes James L. Gibson, PhD, in Miller-McCune. “As it stands today, the U.S. Supreme Court is in fact nearly invincible. For better or for worse.”

Still, the Court’s decisions this year on the constitutionality of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and other blockbuster cases are likely to have vast political consequences, perhaps well beyond health care itself, writes Gibson, director of the Program on Citizenship and Democratic Values at the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy and the Sidney W. Souers Professor of Government in political science in Arts & Sciences.

A key question for 2012, he suggests, is whether there is partisan advantage in attacking the Supreme Court. The Republican candidates are already stumbling over themselves to question the authority of the Supreme Court, and Obama has not been reticent about criticizing the court for its decisions. Will attacks on the court resonate with partisans of different stripes?

The answer, according to a Weidenbaum Center survey, is no — attacks on the Supreme Court are unlikely to generate partisan advantages. Attitudes toward the court’s legitimacy are simply not connected to partisanship, at least among ordinary Americans.

“Undoubtedly, fierce criticism will be leveled against the decision by the losers. But, as with Bush v. Gore, efforts to transform this criticism into a successful attack on the court as an institution will be highly unlikely to succeed,” Gibson writes.

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