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The role Supreme Court decisions may play in upcoming elections


We're going to take a look now at the potential political implications of some recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions. This is something Carroll Doherty of the Pew Research Center studies through polling. Steve Inskeep spoke with him about the role the high court can play in elections, starting with last year's Dobbs case that overturned the constitutional right to abortion.

CARROLL DOHERTY: You see overwhelming share of Democrats. Even 4 in 10 Republicans say it should be legal in all or most cases. So public opinion is pretty much on the side of the legality of abortion. And the reaction to the court's ruling last year was immediate and very powerful.


So that may still be the biggest Supreme Court decision of recent years in its political impact. But we have these newer decisions, and let's work through them. The Supreme Court said that President Biden may not unilaterally cancel more than $400 billion worth of student loan debt. What is the political effect of that?

DOHERTY: Most polls have shown the public divided on this program. There is overwhelming support among people who hold student debt and who would be eligible for the program. Eighty percent or more favor the program. And many of those are young people. Many of those are people of color. Overall, public opinion, though, is divided. And so it's very different than, say, the abortion issue.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about those people who are most directly affected. I find myself thinking about that group of voters. Are they discouraged and disappointed with President Biden because he wasn't able to deliver in a permanent way? Or are they unhappy with Republicans and the judges that Republican presidents have appointed because they stood in the way of this program?

DOHERTY: That's the question on a lot of these cases from this term. You know, in this case, do the people who hold this debt - do they turn their ire towards the administration, as you say, or towards the court itself? And, you know, the court's ratings haven't been lower in three decades. And, you know, young people in particular are very negative towards the court. Does this drive them even more - in a more negative direction and perhaps turn it into something of a voting issue? We seldom see the court itself as a voting issue, but it's possible that the court could become an issue in the 2024 campaign.

INSKEEP: Well, here's one that has gotten a lot of public attention, also having to do with education. The court said it is not constitutionally permissible to use race as a factor in deciding who gets into elite universities. What's the political effect of that?

DOHERTY: The public overall is negative towards the use of race and ethnicity in college admissions. Fifty percent disapprove. Thirty-three percent approve. In this case, I think the people who tend to be most engaged and interested are Black Americans, and especially Black Americans with a four-year college degree. Sixty-four of them approve of these programs. So I think in that case, it has the possible effect of, you know, engaging Black voters again for the 2024 election.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about another case of the court ruled on. The court ruled in favor on the side of a Colorado web designer who wanted to start a wedding webpage business and wanted assurance in advance that she would not have to serve same-sex couples. How does the public feel about that issue?

DOHERTY: This is a very complicated issue that involves free speech and religious principles as well as discrimination. You know, in our survey, we focused on, does this designer have this option if serving LGBT people conflict with their free speech rights? Sixty percent said, no, they don't have to serve people. But on the other hand, our surveys and other surveys have shown the public strongly objects to discrimination against groups, discrimination against transgendered individuals, LGBT people. And so it's a collision of these two principles. And it'll be interesting to see how this unfolds over time and whether this leads to broader discrimination. In that case, I think you can probably say the public might object on the basis of sexual orientation.

INSKEEP: So like the abortion ruling itself, we might discover six months from now that one of these rulings is really significant, even though none of them seems clearly to be so right now.

DOHERTY: Right. And especially, I would say, that the student loan decision impact - because when people feel the effects of this in their everyday lives and they're asked to repay these loans after, you know, being on hiatus for a while, I think that could have a real impact. And, you know, again, is it the Biden administration that's on the hook for this for failing to deliver or the court itself? And I don't think we know the answer to that yet.

INSKEEP: Carroll Doherty, director of political research at the Pew Research Center. Thanks so much.

DOHERTY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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