WASHINGTON – More than three-quarters of Americans say the Senate should aggressively examine federal judicial nominees (search) and not just approve them because they are the president's choices.
That's one of the few aspects of this divisive issue that gets widespread agreement, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Friday.
Slightly more respondents — but not a majority — favor conservative over liberal judges. A slim majority — 52 percent — say they would be comfortable with whomever President Bush might pick for the Supreme Court. Both sides point to the Senate's duty to "advise and consent" (search) on presidential nominations. Republicans say that means great deference is given to the president, while Democrats say it means those put forward should be closely scrutinized.
The poll found 78 percent believe the Senate should take an "assertive role" examining judicial nominees. There were majorities among each political affiliation — Democrats, Republicans and independent.
"I'm probably more on the conservative side, but I think the Senate should closely look at each nominee," said Heidi Densel, a Republican from Fort Wayne, Ind.
Democrat Carol Zebott of Duluth, Minn., said she wants the Senate to examine the judicial choices of the president because "I just think he has been making a lot of bad decisions lately."
A powerful force driving the current battle in the Senate over judges is the possibility of one or more openings on the Supreme Court during Bush's second term.
Twenty-nine percent said they feel very comfortable that the president would pick the "right kind of justice," while 32 percent said they are "not at all comfortable," according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos.
In November, people were slightly more likely to say they were "very comfortable" than "not at all comfortable."
Billy Monday, a political independent who lives near Hickory, N.C., said he trusts the president to make good appointments on the court because: "The decisions he makes — pretty tough decisions — he meets head-on."
But James Henderson, a Democratic professor from Titusville, Pa., said he's not very comfortable that the president will pick the right nominee for the Supreme Court or other federal courts. "I would prefer them to be liberal, but I'm not holding my breath."
Forty-seven percent said they would prefer federal judges who are very or somewhat conservative, while 39 percent favored somewhat or very liberal.
Just over half said that federal judges make decisions mostly on their interpretation of the law, while 43 percent said judges rely mostly on their personal feelings and political views.
"I think they make decisions based on the law," said Janice Tijerina, a semi-retired Republican from Grand Rapids, Mich., "but with a little bit of their personal feelings."
The AP-Ipsos poll of 1,028 adults was taken May 17-19 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.