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Should Obama Ignore the Federal Courts?

Friday, February 20, 2015

President Obama’s immigration plan and his national health care law both face legal challenges this year that could bring them to a halt. But one-in-four voters think the president should be able to ignore the courts if he wants to, and Democrats believe that even more strongly.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 26% of Likely U.S. Voters think the president should have the right to ignore federal court rulings if they are standing in the way of actions he feels are important for the country. Sixty percent (60%) disagree and say the president should not have the right to ignore the courts. Fifteen percent (15%) are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

But perhaps more unsettling to supporters of constitutional checks and balances is the finding that 43% of Democrats believe the president should have the right to ignore the courts. Only 35% of voters in President Obama’s party disagree, compared to 81% of Republicans and 67% of voters not affiliated with either major party.

Fifty-two percent (52%) of all voters believe, generally speaking, that court challenges of actions approved by the president and Congress help protect the rights of U.S. citizens. Thirty percent (30%), however, consider such challenges mostly nuisances that stand in the way of good policy. Eighteen percent (18%) are not sure.

Thirty-one percent (31%) think it is more important for government to operate efficiently than it is to preserve our system of checks and balances. Nearly twice as many (59%) place more importance on maintaining checks and balances. Eleven percent (11%) are undecided.

This is basically unchanged from July 2013 when we first asked this question. The system of checks and balances between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government was designed by the Founding Fathers to assure that a consensus was achieved before national legislation could be implemented, but presidents of both parties have complained over the years about the challenges of getting things done in such a system.

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The national survey of 800 Likely Voters was conducted on February 18-19, 2015 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3.5 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

Opponents of the president's actions on Obamacare and immigration say he does not have the constitutional authority to alter a law passed by Congress without congressional approval. Forty-four percent (44%) of voters think Obama has been less faithful to the U.S. Constitution than most other presidents. Twenty-two percent (22%) feel Obama has been more faithful to the Constitution than most of his predecessors, while 30% say he has followed the Constitution about the same as other presidents have.

Only five percent (5%) rate the executive branch the most important of the three branches of our government, while just as many (6%) feel that way about the judiciary. Thirteen percent (13%) consider the legislative branch the most important. But an overwhelming 74% view all three branches to be of equal importance.

Republicans and Democrats are in general agreement on the importance of the three branches, but unaffiliated voters are more likely to feel that all three are of equal importance. Yet while 72% of GOP voters and 63% of unaffiliateds believe it is more important to preserve our constitutional system of checks and balances than for the federal government to operate efficiently, Democrats are evenly divided.

Roughly half of all three groups believe court challenges help protect the rights of U.S. citizens, but Republicans are the strongest believers.

Women and younger voters feel more strongly than men and those 40 and older that the president should have the right to ignore federal court rulings. Black voters believe that more than whites and other minority voters do.

Sixty-five percent (65%) of Mainstream voters do not believe the president should have the power to override the courts, but just 46% of the Political Class agree.

Thirty-one percent (31%) of all voters think when it comes to issues that he considers important to the nation, Obama should take action alone if Congress does not approve the initiatives he has proposed. Just 24% believe states should have the right to ignore federal court rulings if their elected officials disagree with them.

Fifty-six percent (56%) of Americans think the Constitution should be left alone. Thirty-three percent (33%) believe minor changes are needed in the nation's foundational document. Four percent (4%) feel major changes are necessary, while two percent (2%) think the United States should scrap the Constitution completely and start over.

Additional information from this survey and a full demographic breakdown are available to Platinum Members only.

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