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Poll: Court Nominee's Views Count

Even before John Roberts was nominated for Chief Justice of the United States, most Americans said a Court nominee's positions on issues -- and not just his or her legal background -- should be considered in confirmation hearings. And while a majority of Americans couldn't say whether Roberts should have been confirmed as an Associate Justice, most thought he eventually would have been confirmed to sit on the Supreme Court.

In a shift from July, the public now thinks the Senate should consider a Supreme Court nominee's positions on issues in addition to his or her legal background. According to last week's poll, 57 percent said a nominee's opinions on issues should be considered, while 33 percent thought the Senate should consider only a nominee's legal qualifications and background. Even more Americans said a nominee's position on the issues should be considered than did so during the nomination processes of Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork.

WHEN EVALUATING NOMINEE, SENATE SHOULD CONSIDER:

Legal qualifications only
Now
33%
Last month
46%
9/1991 (Thomas)
39%
9/1987 (Bork)
39%

Positions on issues also
Now
57%
Last month
46%
9/1991 (Thomas)
49%
9/1987 (Bork)
52%

In addition, when asked specifically about John Roberts, nearly eight in 10 said it is important that the Senate know Roberts' positions on issues such as abortion and affirmative action before confirming him, including 46 percent who say it is "very important." 64 percent of Democrats said it is "very important" to know his positions on these issues, compared to just 30 percent of Republicans. Women were also more likely than men to say knowing Roberts' views on issues like abortion and affirmative action is "very important."

IMPORTANT FOR SENATE TO KNOW ROBERTS' POSITION ON ISSUES LIKE ABORTION AND AFFIRMATIVE ACTION?

Very
46%
Somewhat
32%
Not very/not at all
21%

This poll was conducted before the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Six in ten Americans couldn't say then whether the Senate should confirm Roberts to the Supreme Court. 26 percent said he should be confirmed, while one in ten said he should not.


SHOULD ROBERTS BE CONFIRMED BY THE SENATE?

Yes
All
26%
Rep.
46%
Dem.
13%
Ind.
21%

No
All
9%
Rep.
4%
Dem.
16%
Ind.
8%

Can't say
All
60%
Rep.
46%
Dem.
68%
Ind.
65%

46 percent of Republicans said Roberts should be confirmed, but the same number couldn't say. Democrats were divided in their opinions: 13 percent for confirmation; 16 percent against, but 68 percent of them didn't know whether Roberts should have been confirmed or not.

Past history suggests that the public is reluctant to weigh in on a particular nominee before confirmation hearings commence. Prior to confirmation hearings for then-nominee Clarence Thomas, 59 percent couldn't say whether or not he should be confirmed. Also, before Robert Bork's confirmation hearings in 1987, 66 percent couldn't say decide whether he should be confirmed or not.

SHOULD ... BE CONFIRMED BY THE SENATE?

Roberts (Now)
Yes
26%
No
9%
Can't say
60%

Thomas (9/1991)
Yes
24%
No
11%
Can't say
59%

Bork (9/1987)
Yes
14%
No
13%
Can't say
66%

Still, last week 71 percent expected Justice Roberts to be confirmed to the Supreme Court -- including majorities of both Democrats and Republicans.

EXPECT JOHN ROBERTS WILL BE CONFIRMED BY THE SENATE?

Yes
Now
71%
Last month
73%

No
Now
7%
Last month
8%

Don't know
Now
22%
Last month
19%


Overall opinion of John Roberts changed little from one month ago. About seven in 10 either hadn't heard enough about Roberts or were undecided in their views of him. Those who did have an opinion held a favorable one: 22 percent viewed Roberts favorably, while just 8 percent viewed him unfavorably.

OPINION OF JOHN ROBERTS

Favorable
Now
22%
Last month
25%

Unfavorable
Now
8%
Last month
7%

Undecided
Now
24%
Last month
17%

Haven't heard enough
Now
45%
Last month
51%

Expectations regarding the tone of the confirmation hearings were somewhat mixed, as the public remains divided over whether or not the hearings would be conducted in a non-partisan manner. 44 percent thought Senators would conduct hearings fairly, but 49 percent expected the parties would not be able to work together.

WILL REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS WORK TOGETHER?

Yes, will work together
Now
44%
Last month
43%

No, will not work together
Now
49%
Last month
47%



This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 871 adults, interviewed by telephone August 29-31, 2005. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on all adults. Error for subgroups is higher.
For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.

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