As new U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan was preparing to hear her first arguments, the Harris Poll conducted a survey aimed at determining how knowledgeable Americans are about the process of confirming a justice.
Forty-two percent of 2,775 adults surveyed online between Aug. 9 and 16, say they are not knowledgeable about the process.
Respondents 65 and older (75 percent) and men (71 percent)were more likely to say they are familiar with the process than those between ages 18 and 33 and women (both 46 percent).
A strong majority (81 percent) said nominees should be required to answer questions on specific issues and how they would vote on specific cases. Nominees and many of the senators interviewing typically say they can’t answer such inquiries because they would be pre-judging issues in the abstract rather than focus on the facts of a particular case.
The poll disclosed significant differences in the views of the court by Republicans and Democrats.
More than three-quarters of Republicans say nominees should be required to say how they would vote on specific cases, while only 54 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of independents share that view.
Respondents also were asked what type of person they would prefer to see on the court: justices who keeps their personal opinions of right and wrong to themselves and make decisions strictly based on the letter of the law and the Constitution, an independent thinker who uses creativity and an understanding of modern circumstances to inform their legal rulings, someone who uses his or her own values or moral compass to guide their decisions.
Fifty-one percent preferred a strict constructionist, 32 percent a creative thinker and only 6 percent a person who follows her own compass. Eleven percent weren’t sure which type they preferred.
The split between Republicans and Democrats was sharp here as well, with two thirds of Republicans preferring strict constructionists, and only 38 percent of Democrats in that category. Forty-five percent of Democrats prefer and independent thinker.
Despite those differences more than 70 percent of Republicans, Democrats and independents agree that the court is a crucial governing body for the success of the country.
Details of the poll are here.