Friday, February 03, 2017
What does America want in a Supreme Court justice?
Eighty-nine percent (89%) of voters favor the continued use of the Constitution as the fundamental law of the United States, although 32% think some minor changes are needed in that storied document.
Sixty-eight percent (68%) think the Supreme Court should make decisions based on what’s written in the U.S. Constitution and legal precedents. Only 26% feel the court should be guided mostly by a sense of fairness and justice instead.
That’s the sticking point. Conservatives have long complained about liberal judges whom they believe read new rights into the law to adapt to changing times. Eighty-four percent (84%) of conservatives and 61% of moderates want a court that sticks to a strict interpretation of the Constitution over each judge’s sense of fairness and justice; liberals are closely divided.
On a political level, the mainstream position favored by most voters across the partisan spectrum is a court that rules based on the Constitution and legal precedents. Of course, Republicans (83%) attach even more importance to that than unaffiliated voters (67%) and Democrats (55%) do.
Prior to Election Day, 80% of Donald Trump supporters rated the selection of the next Supreme Court justice as Very Important to their vote, a view shared by only 58% of Hillary Clinton supporters. Now it’s President Trump’s decision to make, and he’s chosen federal Appellate Court Judge Neil Gorsuch, a strict constructionist who said at the ceremony Tuesday announcing his nomination, “A judge who likes every outcome he reaches is very likely a bad judge, stretching for results he prefers rather than those the law demands.”
Voters may be changing their attitudes slightly, though. For the first time last April, they were slightly more inclined to see the Constitution as a living document subject to constant reinterpretation rather than one that should be strictly interpreted as it is written. Echoing conservative concerns, however, just 24% said the high court has strictly interpreted the original words of the Constitution over the years.
Early last year just prior to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia whom Gorsuch is slated to replace, 33% of voters described the Supreme Court in political terms as too liberal, while 24% said it was too conservative. Another 33% viewed the court politically speaking as about right. This is consistent with surveying for years.
At the same time, 40% said the Supreme Court was doing a good or excellent job, the highest positive finding in nearly four years. Only 15% rated its performance as poor. In June 2015 after the court’s rulings upholding Obamacare and gay marriage, positive ratings for the court jumped to a previous high of 38%. At the same time, those giving the court poor marks climbed to 33%, the highest negative finding in surveying since November 2006.
Voters also have said in surveys for years that most Supreme Court justices are not impartial but instead have their own political agenda.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg didn’t help things when she attacked Trump publicly last summer. Even 52% of liberal voters agreed that public political comments by Supreme Court justices raise questions about the court’s impartiality. That compares, though, to 80% of conservatives and 64% of moderates.
Now Senate Democrats will try to argue that Gorsuch’s judicial views – particularly if they can find any in areas like abortion and gay marriage - are outside the political mainstream, although Rasmussen Reports polling finds voters closely conflicted on these hot button social issues.
Democrats are already threatening to use the legislative tactic of filibustering to stop the nomination. In the Senate, a filibuster can prevent a vote from taking place unless 60 senators override it. Republicans now have only a 52-48 majority in the Senate, so they would need a number of Democratic senators to join them to defeat a filibuster.
When Democrats were in the majority in the Senate, they changed the rules for all nominees except Supreme Court justices, so that a confirmation vote must be held whenever a majority of senators agrees, effectively eliminating the filibuster. Sixty-four percent (64%) of Democrats thought that was a good idea; 66% of Republicans didn’t. Now Trump and other Republicans think the GOP Senate majority should follow the Democrats’ lead and authorize the so-called “nuclear option” which would allow a nomination for Supreme Court also to go forward on a simple majority vote.
That drama will play out in the weeks ahead. Sixty-two percent (62%) of all voters, however, think every person the president nominates to serve as a judge or in a government position should receive an up or down confirmation vote on the floor of the Senate.
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