Poll shows what Americans think of U.S. Supreme Court

September 23, 2010
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We’ve had two United States Supreme Court justices confirmed recently, but more than 40 percent of Americans say they aren’t knowledgeable about how justices are confirmed.

And of those who are knowledgeable, the majority is made up of older men.

The Harris Interactive poll – in which 2,775 adults were surveyed online in August on the Supreme Court – also shows that more than 80 percent believe the nominees should be required to answer questions on specific issues; 63 percent think they should answer how they would vote in specific court cases, both past and hypothetical; and a little more than half want nominees to answer questions about their personal lives.

Older Americans and Republicans are more likely to want nominees to answer these questions during the confirmation process.

Nearly 70 percent of respondents said the high court is a crucial governing body for the success of the nation, but they varied on the type of justices they’d like to see on the bench. Half want someone who keeps their personal opinions of “right” and “wrong” to themselves and makes decisions based on the letter of the law and the Constitution; 32 percent want an independent thinker who takes modern circumstances into account; and 6 percent said they want someone who uses their own values to guide their decisions. Eleven percent weren’t sure what type of person they’d want on the court.

Are we as a public just uninterested in what happens in our nation’s highest court because it’s so far removed from our daily lives we don’t think about it? You don’t see highlights of arguments on the nightly news and the justices don’t often speak to the media. Local media rarely covers Supreme Court rulings, nationally or locally. Network news, which is more likely to cover the Supreme Court, has seen a decline in viewers. Plus, mostly older people watch network news. That may account for the discrepancy in younger people knowing about the confirmation process.

Could this lack of exposure be the problem or do we just not care?

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