On 4 July, the United States celebrates Independence Day commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the founding of the United States, and the official separation of the 13 colonies from British rule in 1776.
The United States was established by revolution, and the Declaration of Independence enshrined the right of the American people to live free from an oppressive government. But, as the memory of British tyranny fades, it appears Americans’ wariness of government power has not.
Only about 20 per cent of Americans say they trust their government to do what is right, and in June last year, Americans’ trust in their major institutions hit a 50-year low, with a particularly stark 11-point point tumble in trust for the US Supreme Court from the previous year.
Last week, three major Supreme Court cases on race-based college admissions, services for same-sex couples and President Biden’s student loan relief plan were decided by a consistent six to three vote, with the six Republican-appointed judges in the majority. The decisions and the increasingly predictable six to three vote has provide fuel for critics of the nation’s top court, and renewed concerns about the checks and balances of American institutional power.
Defenders of the Supreme Court may point to data showing the 2023 term had the fewest strict ideological votes (i.e. the six to three split) in the last six years. But in a year featuring the unprecedented leaking of a court opinion, justices publicly criticising one another and embroiled in scandals over undisclosed donations and the January 6 investigations, public opinion suggests it is increasingly difficult to view the court as above the fray of politics.
All these developments, coinciding with Independence Day celebrations, are a timely reminder that Americans’ expectations of protected personal liberties, freedom from tyranny and limits to government persist as they did nearly 250 years ago.