And even though Republicans and Democrats’ views of the court are fairly malleable, and tend to shift around big events or decisions, an uptick in partisan rancor could prompt the justices to tread carefully in a year when the justices will already be addressing hot-button issues like President Trump’s effort to end Obama-era protections for young undocumented immigrants and workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. “A 26-point gap between the parties is jarring — this seems like a fairly unprecedented situation,” said Michael Salamone, a political science professor at Washington State University who studies public responses to the Supreme Court. “If entrenched partisan views of the court persist, it could have a longer-term impact on the court’s legitimacy,” he added.
This isn’t the first time a political rift has emerged around the court. In the 1930s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously grew frustrated with the justices’ rejection of his New Deal policies and sparked a political firestorm by trying to add as many as six new seats. Several decades later, “Impeach Earl Warren” signs popped up in response to the liberal chief justice’s decisions on desegregation. And Richard Nixon explicitly ran against Warren court rulings that had expanded criminal defendants’ rights, including the landmark Miranda decision, in his 1968 campaign.