Published April 28, 2010
With the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens, the U.S. Supreme Court could be left without a single Protestant for the first time ever. Most American voters are OK with that, according to a Fox News Poll released Wednesday.
Stevens, who announced his retirement April 9, is the only Protestant currently sitting on the court. Of the remaining eight justices, six are Roman Catholic and two are Jewish.
Overall, 70 percent of American voters say it wouldn’t matter to them if there weren’t any justices with a Protestant religious background on the court, while 27 percent say it would matter.
The results are bit more evenly divided among Protestants: 57 percent say it wouldn’t matter, and 39 percent say it would.
Republicans (41 percent) are about twice as likely as Democrats (19 percent) and independents (22 percent) to say yes, it would matter.
The national telephone poll was conducted for Fox News by Opinion Dynamics Corp. among 900 registered voters from April 20 to April 21. For the total sample, the poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Another issue of diversity on the court has to do with educational background. Justice Stevens is a graduate of Northwestern Law School in Illinois. The remaining justices are all graduates of one of three Ivy League law schools: Harvard, Yale or Columbia. For the next justice, do Americans want President Obama (a Harvard Law alum himself) to pick another Ivy Leaguer or someone who’s a bit more “Middle America”?
Few -- 9 percent -- think the president should pick someone who went to an Ivy League law school, while nearly five times as many -- 42 percent -- prefer a nominee who attended a “less elite, everyday American law school.” The largest number though -- 47 percent -- say it doesn’t matter either way.
Voters with a college degree (9 percent) are no more likely than those without a degree (8 percent) to support an Ivy League nominee. On the other hand, those without a degree (46 percent) are somewhat more likely than those with a degree (39 percent) to back the idea of a non-Ivy League pick.
During Senate confirmation hearings, Supreme Court nominees are typically asked how they’ll vote on divisive issues. While nominees usually decline to talk about cases that could come before the court, voters are interested in hearing candid answers on some hot-button issues.
The issue people want to hear the nominee talk about more than any other issue is health care and whether the newly enacted law is constitutional (77 percent).
Almost as many (71 percent) would like to hear candid answers from the nominee on whether the government can ban guns, and if the Constitution gives women a right to an abortion (68 percent).
Six in 10 want to hear the nominee’s thoughts on whether gay marriage is a right guaranteed by the Constitution (60 percent).
Other highlights from the poll:
▪ Nearly half of American voters (46 percent) think the Supreme Court’s decisions are generally “about right” ideologically, while 27 percent say they are “too liberal” and 16 percent “too conservative.”
▪ Voters think having served as a judge or being a constitutional scholar are the top two characteristics that should be “the single most important factor” in picking a new justice. Most think being a woman, a minority or homosexual shouldn’t matter.
▪ About equal numbers of voters say they would be comfortable with a Mormon (65 percent) as with a Fundamentalist Christian (62 percent) on the Supreme Court.
▪ 43 percent would be comfortable with a Muslim on the court, while a 53 percent majority would not.
▪ Some 39 percent would be comfortable with an atheist, while 58 percent wouldn’t.
▪ Significantly more voters would be comfortable with a libertarian (57 percent) than with a socialist (31 percent) as a justice.
▪ Finally, 40 percent think Hillary Clinton would make a good Supreme Court Justice, while 27 percent think that of Judge Judy.