Senate confirmation hearings begin today for Sonia Sotomayor, but just four in ten Americans have an opinion of the nominee, a new CBS News poll finds. Those with an opinion tend to be favorable and think she should be confirmed, though opposition has risen in the last month.
Heading into the hearings, 23 percent say they have a favorable view of Sotomayor now and 15 percent are unfavorable. Attacks by her opponents have increased as the hearings have drawn near, and positive opinions of Sotomayor have dropped and negative ones have risen since last month when 33 percent said they had a favorable view and just nine percent had an unfavorable view.
But what could be most significant is that 62 percent of Americans still are undecided or say they haven't heard enough about her yet to make a judgment. That is not unusual for a Supreme Court nominee just prior to his or her confirmation hearings and majorities could not assess previous nominees before their hearings either in CBS News polling.
In fact, somewhat more people have opinions of Sotomayor now than had opinions of past nominees before their hearings.
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Partisan differences in opinions of Supreme Court nominees are also not unusual. In this poll, 39 percent of Democrats have a positive opinion of Sotomayor compared to just eight percent of Republicans.
Since Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's 2005 retirement, just one woman – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- sits on the Supreme Court. The poll also finds that two thirds of Americans think it is important to have another woman on the Court, including 72 percent of women, 79 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans.
Just over half also think it is important to have a Hispanic serve on the Supreme Court. In September 1991, before the start of Clarence Thomas' hearings, a similar percentage thought it was important to have a black person on the Court.
Sixty-seven percent of Democrats, but just 36 percent of Republicans, think this is important.
By two to one, Americans think Sotomayor ought to be confirmed, with 30 percent saying yes and 14 percent saying no. However 52 percent can't yet say.
Most Americans think that if she does serve on the Supreme Court, Sotomayor will treat all groups of Americans the same when she makes her judicial decisions. Just 21 percent think she will favor certain groups over others.
Read the Complete Poll (PDF)>
Editor's Note: Visit our CourtWatch blog today to watch live video of the Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings, plus live running commentary from CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen via Twitter.
This poll was conducted among a random sample of 944 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone July 9-12, 2009. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher.
This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.