Federal Courts and Nominations

Poll: Public Displeased With Supreme Court

By Courtney Such 


With the Supreme Court’s current term ending next month, the justices will soon issue a slew of new opinions and consider their fall schedule of cases. But according to a new poll, a large majority of Americans lack confidence in how the court does its work.


The survey, conducted by The Mellman Group and Constitutional Accountability Center, suggests that there is a strong undercurrent of dissatisfaction among the public about the way the Roberts court goes about its business of interpreting the Constitution.


“By almost 2 to 1, people are negative about the way the court is performing,” lead pollster Mark Mellman told reporters Tuesday morning. “Those views are not particularly intense, but they are clearly on the negative side.”


Mellman, a prominent Democratic pollster, added that the negative assessments span the ideological spectrum. Plainly put, whatever their political views, Americans want a more transparent and accountable Supreme Court.


“Liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans look almost the same in terms of their evaluations of the court’s performance,” Mellman added, “and indepen­­dents are even less positive than the conservative Republicans or the liberal Democrats.”


Among the highlights of the survey:


–Asked whether the justices should have limited terms rather than their current lifetime appointments, respondents responded by a 3-to-1 margin in favor of limitations.


–Queried about cameras at court deliberations, the public sides overwhelmingly with C-SPAN, which has a longstanding request to televise the proceedings and is against the current policy keeping cameras out.


–When told of the 100 current vacancies in the federal judiciary, Americans blame Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats, and President Obama for the lack of progress, but they blame the GOP most of all.


The survey also turned up a finding of interest to court observers on either side of the longstanding debate between liberals and conservatives over the proper role of the Supreme Court. Conservative legal scholars adhere to an “originalist” interpretation, meaning that the court should decide the cases before it on the basis of the original text of the Constitution. Progressives, including the bloc of liberal justices on the court, counter with an argument that the Constitution is a “living document.”


A definition advanced by the Constitutional Accountability Center, which co-sponsored the poll, is a more nuanced one in which the justices’ deliberations would be informed by “text and history.” This definition “not only bests the conservative case by 49% to 43%, but also outperforms the traditional ‘living document,’” according to the findings. It is an interpretation which bears upon the hot-button topics of today, including the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage.


“The court has taken and decided huge cases in the last nine years, and on most of the biggest cases, divided along ideological lines,” said Doug ­Kendall, founder and president of CAC. “The poll shows that this has taken a huge toll on the court’s ratings, with most of Americans now disapproving of the court’s job performance and viewing the court in a very political light.”


The national survey of 1,000 registered voters was conducted April 16-21 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

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