In the arena of government, there is politics and then there is partisan politics. In society as a whole, there is always politics in everyday life, be it at the office or at the soccer field. Human nature and subsequent behavior is all about politics or the struggle for power and control of resources. While court judges are supposedly unbiased, they are human and thus subject to the same foibles and desires as any other human beings.
The Supreme Court was designed to be insulated as much as possible from the other branches of government and from partisan politics. The intent was to protect the Court from political and social movements that come and go. While popular opinion is somewhat mercurial, the Court was designed to be able to continue to function independent of societal forces. In principle, this design strives for an ideal and aims at a higher standard than most human beings are able to achieve as a group or individually.
As part of the federal government, it is impossible to completely separate the Court from politics, partisan or otherwise. One wouldn’t have achieved a career worthy of nomination and consideration without years of playing the game and working the system, however honorable the individual nominee is. Justices are political animals, even though they may not be elected to the particular office at the pinnacle of their career aspirations. A look at most of their pasts will reveal long careers in the judicial/legal arena. Whether they began as a District Attorney who established their reputation by the number of wins (refusing cases that were not likely to be winners to skew the numbers in their favor), or a public defender (earning brownie points for sacrificing a hard won law degree for low pay and a reputation for being above money-grabbing attorneys who chose a more lucrative private practice career path), politics and image are a great part of what gets an individual nominated to a Supreme Court appointment in the first place. Judges are politicians, partisan or otherwise, in that they desire to achieve power.
As individuals, all members of the Supreme Court no doubt have their own viewpoints, opinions and agendas. Even the moderates (for example, Sandra Day O’Connor) are still human and subject to influence from the winds of society. Aside from a desire for power and control of one’s own fate, one of the fundamental needs of people is to fit in and belong to society. It is thus virtually impossible to completely separate the members of the Supreme Court from politics.
In the last hundred years, there have been remarkable shifts in the politics of the Court (the Warren court for example) and changes in the role of the Court. Whether the Justices had a prior partisan affiliation ( John Marshall was a devout Federalist and enabled the expansion of judicial review), all have come to the bench with their own history and opinions. It is impossible for an individual to reach this level in the federal bureaucracy without some palm greasing.
As for the last few decades, America has become more educated and enlightened. The internet has replaced the Pony Express. People are now bombarded by bits and bytes of information as soon as an even occurs or threatens to occur. Whether this is a good thing or bad is a matter of opinion. Society has sped up; careers can be made or broken in a minute. Justices are not immune to this microsecond scrutiny as they desire to retain their positions of power.
The difference in the perceived politicism of the Court in the last few decades may be attributed in the speed of information dispersal and general desire of society for a quick fix. Americans have become used to fast food, credit versus layaway, in other words, instant gratification. The drafters of the Constitution left the document open-ended and flexible, but there is no possible way that they could have completely grasped the speed of change and the technology to come.