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Poll: Supreme Court Pick Matters

Just two weeks after Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's announcement that she will resign from the Supreme Court, most Americans (and most women) think it is important that President Bush nominate another woman to replace her. But overall, more than half lack confidence that President George W. Bush will nominate good Supreme Court justices.

Americans are divided on just what the Senate should pay attention to in the confirmation process, with about as many saying they'd like the Senate to focus on the nominee's issue positions, as saying the Senate should focus only on the nominee's legal background.

THE NEXT SUPREME COURT JUSTICE

Nearly six in ten Americans think it is important to name another woman to replace O'Connor, while 40 percent think that is not important.

IMPORTANCE OF NAMING WOMAN TO REPLACE O'CONNOR

Very Important
All
25%
Men
13%
Women
36%

Somewhat important
All
33%
Men
37%
Women
30%

Not very important
All
17%
Men
16%
Women
18%

Not at all important
All
23%
Men
32%
Women
14%

Women are more likely than men to say it is very important to them that a woman replaces O'Connor; 36 percent of women feel this way, compared to just 13 percent of men. Democrats are also more likely than Republicans to think nominating a woman is very important.

Americans are split on whether the Senate should examine a nominee's positions on specific issues. 45 percent think the Senate should consider only the nominee's legal qualifications and background, while 47 percent think the Senate should also consider how the nominee might vote on major issues the Supreme Court decides.


WHEN EVALUATING NOMINEE, SENATE SHOULD CONSIDER:

Legal qualifications only
Now
45%
9/1991 (Thomas)
39%
9/1987 (Bork)
39%

Positions on issues also
Now
47%
9/1991 (Thomas)
49%
9/1987 (Bork)
52%

This is a change since the confirmation hearings of then-nominees Clarence Thomas in 1991 and Robert Bork in 1987 -- although when those polls were conducted, a nominee had been named and the confirmation process had become contentious, which has not yet happened in this case. In 1991 and 1987, Americans clearly preferred that the Senate explore the nominees' positions on issues that might confront the Court.

Over half of Democrats want the Senate to focus on the nominee's positions on issues, while more Republicans prefer the Senate focus on the nominee's legal qualifications.

Appointments to the Supreme Court matter to Americans. 59 percent say that which judges sit on the Supreme Court is extremely or very important to them personally, and another 30 percent say it is somewhat important. 10 percent say it is not important.

IMPORTANT WHO SITS ON SUPREME COURT?

Extremely important
22%
Very important
37%
Somewhat important
30%
Not important
10%

Large segments of those from both political parties think this is an important issue, with about one in four Republicans and Democrats seeing it as extremely important.

There are doubts about this President's ability to make good choices -- 46 percent say they are confident that George W. Bush will pick good judges, while slightly more, 52 percent, are uneasy about whom he will choose.

BUSH'S SUPREME COURT CHOICE

Confident
46%
Uneasy
52%

Views on Bush's choice fall along clear partisan lines. About seven in ten white evangelicals and conservatives express confidence in Bush's choice, as do eight in ten Republicans. Eight in ten Democrats and liberals are uneasy. Most Independents and moderates are uneasy, but opinion among these groups is more divided.

One in three Americans expects that evangelical Christians, who have lately been vocal in their views of possible nominees, will have too much influence on the president in this matter. 37 percent expect evangelicals will have the right amount of influence, while 14 percent think they will have too little. Not surprisingly, Democrats and liberals are more likely to think they will have too much influence.

EVANGELICALS' INFLUENCE ON BUSH'S CHOICE

Too much
30%
Too little
14%
Right amount
37%

VIEWS OF THE SUPREME COURT

Views of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Chief Justice William Rehnquist are mostly positive -- but more than half haven't heard enough about either one to give an opinion. 58 percent are undecided about O'Connor, 37 percent have a favorable opinion and 3 percent have an unfavorable view of her. The public's views of Rehnquist are similar; 63 percent have no opinion, 24 percent are favorable and 10 percent are unfavorable. Views of him have changed little since 1987.

VIEWS OF O'CONNOR AND REHNQUIST

O'Connor
Favorable
37%
Unfavorable
3%
Undecided/haven't heard enough
58%

Rehnquist
Favorable
24%
Unfavorable
10%
Undecided/haven't heard enough
63%

Americans do have opinions about the Supreme Court generally -- but only 36 percent have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in it. 40 percent have some confidence. The percent saying they have a great deal of confidence is slightly lower now than it has been in the past; last November, 20 percent had a great deal of confidence.


CONFIDENCE IN SUPREME COURT

A great deal
Now
14%
11/2004
20%

Quite a lot
Now
22%
11/2004
21%

Some
Now
40%
11/2004
39%

Very little
Now
20%
11/2004
17%

Half say they mostly agree with the decisions the Supreme Court has made over the past year, while 36 percent mostly disagree.

Just as they are divided about whether Senate confirmation hearings should include nominees' positions on issues or just his or her legal background, Americans are also divided as to whether Supreme Court rulings ought to factor in public opinion or be based only on the legal issues. 48 percent think the Court should consider only the legal issues when it makes important decisions; 46 percent think it should also take public opinion on the issue into consideration.

IN RULINGS, SUPREME COURT SHOULD TAKE INTO ACCOUNT:

Legal issues only
Now
48%
9/1987
32%

Public opinion also
Now
46%
9/1987
60%

This marks a significant change in the public's views over the past couple decades. In 1987, the public had a greater preference for including public opinion in Supreme Court rulings.

In this poll, Republicans take a more legalistic approach to both the confirmation process and the Court's rulings. More than Democrats, Republicans prefer that the Supreme Court's rulings be based only on the legal issues involved, and they are more likely to think that the Senate ought to consider only a nominee's legal experience and background.

ABORTION

The vacancy on the Supreme Court as a result of Sandra Day O'Connor's resignation has placed the Roe v. Wade decision, made over thirty years ago, back in the spotlight. Nearly six in ten think the Court's decision establishing a Constitutional right for women to obtain legal abortions was a good thing, while 32 percent think it was bad. Those figures have changed little since 1998.

ROE V. WADE WAS…

Good thing
Now
59%
1/1998
60%

Bad thing
Now
32%
1/1998
33%

Views on abortion itself, however, are more nuanced. 25 percent think abortion should be permitted in all cases, while 14 percent would permit it with greater restrictions than exist now. 38 percent think it should be allowed only in the case of rape, incest or to save the woman's life, while 15 percent would allow it only to save the woman's life. These views have changed very little over the years.

VIEWS ON ABORTION

Permitted in all cases
25%
Permitted with more restrictions
14%
Permitted in rape, incest, to save women's life
38%
Permitted only to save woman's life
15%
Not permitted at all (vol.)
3%

About half of conservatives and Republicans and two thirds of white evangelical Christians think the Roe v. Wade decision was bad, and large majorities of these groups think abortion should be more restricted than it is now. Men are slightly more likely than women to think abortion should only be permitted in case of rape, incest or to save a woman's life.


By a large margin, Americans favor requiring a girl under 18 seeking an abortion to obtain the consent of at least one parent. Support for parental notification extends to majorities of Americans of all political views.

PARENTAL NOTIFICATION OF ABORTION FOR GIRLS UNDER 18

Favor
80%
Oppose
17%

STEM CELL RESEARCH

56 percent of Americans approve of medical research using embryonic stem cells, while 30 percent disapprove. Approval is about the same as it was in May.

EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH

Approve
Now
56%
5/2005
58%
8/2004
50%

Disapprove
Now
30%
5/2005
31%
8/2004
31%

Democrats and Independents approve of such research, but Republicans are divided. Fewer than half of white evangelicals and conservatives support it.

The Senate is considering legislation previously passed by the House of Representatives that would lift restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. 34 percent of Americans support expanding the number of stem cell lines available for federally funded research, while 16 percent think the current level is sufficient.

EXTEND FEDERAL FUNDING OF STEM CELL RESEARCH TO MORE LINES?

Yes
Now
34%
5/2005
37%
8/2004
33%

No
Now
16%
5/2005
17%
8/2004
13%

Disapprove of stem cell research
Now
30%
5/2005
31%
8/2004
31%


This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 632 adults, interviewed by telephone July 13-14, 2005. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus four 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.