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New Poll: Greater Transparency at SCOTUS May Be the Only Thing the Left and Right Agree On

Despite its opacity, most Americans rate the Supreme Court more favorably than Congress or the president

Most Americans view the Supreme Court favorably, but its popularity is dimmed by how little voters are paying attention to its work and how much they want the institution to modernize, according to a new poll released today by Fix the Court.

Fifty-seven percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of SCOTUS, versus 24% unfavorable, and most rate the court’s job performance positively (53% excellent or good vs. 35% not so good or poor). However, only 17% have a “very favorable” opinion of the court and only 6% say it’s doing an “excellent” jobOnly 12% say they follow SCOTUS “very closely,” and a significant portion, ranging from 33% to 55% depending on the justice, say they are undecided about the respective justices’ job performances.

Large majorities support every Fix the Court transparency objective that was tested, including requiring justices to abide by a formal code of conduct (86% support vs. 9% oppose), to explain their recusal decisions (82% support vs. 16% oppose) and to establish blind trusts for their financial holdings (72% support vs. 20% oppose).

“It’s not surprising that three years removed from the contentious same-sex marriage cases and six years after its controversial Obamacare opinion the Supreme Court is rated favorably by a majority of Americans,” said Fix the Court executive director Gabe Roth. “These views could change with pending decisions on gerrymandering, taxes and the travel ban, but overall, our data suggest that a polity – and a media landscape – dominated by a single, polarizing figure is helping other government institutions avoid scrutiny.”

Despite the positive feelings for the court, a large number of Americans believe it should be subjected to as much scrutiny as the other branches of government (76% agree vs. 23% disagree) with no difference between Democrats and Republicans (76% of both agree). Most also feel that the justices too often let their personal views influence their decisions (69% agree vs. 26% disagree), with only a limited number seeing SCOTUS as in touch with people like them (26% agree vs. 68% disagree).

The same percentage of respondents – 67% – who want to end life tenure at the high court in favor of 18-year terms also want the court’s public proceedings to be covered by live video (67% support vs. 31% oppose) or live audio (67% support vs. 29% oppose).

Matt Canter of Global Strategy Group, which conducted the poll with Public Opinion Strategies, said: “Though the Supreme Court remains popular, it is not immune to the growing skepticism Americans have for public institutions, and public support is extremely high for greater transparency.” Robert Blizzard of Public Opinion Strategies added: “The Supreme Court enjoys something most politicians do not – a favorable image across party lines – yet it’s susceptible to the ethics concerns often expressed by voters about those who reside in D.C. In fact, voters across the board strongly support reforms aimed at providing greater accountability from their justices, whether it be abiding by a formal code of conduct or requiring blind trusts for their financial holdings.”

In terms of its docket, most agree with the justices’ May 14 decision in Murphy v. NCAA that permits states to pass new laws to legalize sports gambling (55% support vs. 34% oppose). Even though the justices declined on June 4 to rule on the core First Amendment issues in Masterpiece Cakeshop, a majority of respondents support the arguments made by Colorado Civil Rights Commission that the shop owners should not be able to turn away a same-sex couple who want a wedding cake (54% say business owners should not be allowed to refuse service vs. 37% say business owners should be able to).

For the OT17 cases yet to be decided, most support the government’s position in Trump v. Hawaii, that it may ban travelers from certain Muslim-majority countries for national security reasons (52% say the government has authority to do so vs. 41% say the travel ban is wrong). The two gerrymandering arguments (Gill v. Whitford and Benisek v. Lamone) yield a cloudier result: 44% say that political gerrymandering is wrong on its face, while 38% say that courts shouldn’t wade into the issue unless district lines explicitly discriminate based on race or ethnicity.

Regarding major cases from past terms, the court’s decisions in Brown v. Board of Education (83% support vs. 14% oppose), D.C. v. Heller (75% support vs. 22% oppose), Roe v. Wade (71% support vs. 25% oppose) and Obergefell v. Hodges (55% support vs. 40% oppose) remain popular, while NFIB v. Sebelius (41% support vs. 52% oppose) and Citizens United v. FEC (22% support vs. 65% oppose) are not.

With the possibility of a high court vacancy this summer, Fix the Court asked about which qualities Americans deem important for a nominee. Among the most telling results, only 34% say loyalty to Trump is important to them, but a majority (62%) says that loyalty to the president is important in Trump’s own calculations.

Further, six in ten (59%) say there should be a 60-vote requirement in the Senate to confirm a justice, while only three in ten (30%) say 51 votes is acceptable in order to prevent the minority party from holding up nominations.

For the topline results of the survey, click here. For the crosstabs, click here.

About this poll:
Global Strategy Group and Public Opinion Strategies conducted a survey of 1,028 registered voters nationwide from May 16-22, 2018. The margin of error at the 95% confidence level is +/- 3.1%. The margin of error on sub-samples is greater.

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