NEW YORK – By more than two-to-one Americans support having a mandatory retirement age for justices serving on the U.S. Supreme Court, a new FOX News poll finds. In light of the announced retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (search) — the first woman ever appointed to the court — two-thirds say President George W. Bush has no obligation to replace her with another woman. O’Connor is well liked by majorities of both Democrats and Republicans.
While about a quarter of Americans (28 percent) think Supreme Court justices should continue to be given lifetime appointments and serve as long as they want, two-thirds (66 percent) think there should be a mandatory retirement age. Among age groups, those over age 65 are the most likely to favor mandatory retirement for the justices as 71 percent endorse the idea compared to 61 percent of those under 30.
At age 57, Clarence Thomas (search) is the only justice too young to collect Social Security.
When selecting new justices, clear majorities say President Bush is not obligated to pick replacements with similar legal and political views to the retiring justice (67 percent), nor does he have to replace O’Connor with another woman (65 percent).
Women (31 percent) are slightly more likely than men (25 percent) to think the president should replace O’Connor with another female justice — but even so, majorities of both women and men agree Bush is not obligated to do so.
O’Connor announced her retirement on July 1; her departure will leave Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the only woman on the high court.
Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News on July 12-13.
A 57 percent majority of Americans have a favorable opinion of Justice O’Connor, 11 percent unfavorable, 20 percent are unsure and 11 have never heard of her. Majorities of women (59 percent), men (55 percent), Democrats (60 percent) and Republicans (56 percent) have a positive opinion of O’Connor.
It may surprise some to learn that Chief Justice William Rehnquist is less well known than O’Connor, with one in five respondents (20 percent) saying they have never heard of him. Just over a third (35 percent) have a favorable view of the chief justice, 16 percent unfavorable and 29 percent unsure. It is widely expected that Rehnquist, who has thyroid cancer, will be the next justice to retire.
Nearly half of Americans (48 percent) have a favorable opinion of President Bush and 45 percent unfavorable.
The poll finds a plurality would rather see the president nominate someone who is “more of a conservative” (39 percent) than “more of a liberal” (25 percent), with the remaining either unsure (16 percent) or volunteering the unread response “a moderate” (12 percent).
There is widespread agreement that it is unacceptable for a U.S. Senator to base his or her vote on a Supreme Court nominee solely on the nominee’s political ideology (69 percent), position on abortion (73 percent) or position on affirmative action (69 percent).
Moreover, most think the nominee’s capabilities are what matters rather than ideological views. A 62 percent majority says it is more important the next justice have “the right expertise and ability” than “the right political point of view” (10 percent). One in five (20 percent) give the unprompted reply “both.”
“People seem to reject so-called ‘litmus tests’ for judicial selection,” comments Opinion Dynamics President John Gorman.
“Of course, this can work both ways. If a judge is seen as being appointed solely for his or her position on a single divisive issue, they may reject that approach as well. They clearly want someone who appears capable and experienced — not ideological.”
The Selection Battle
By all accounts, the process of selecting the next Supreme Court justice is expected to be ugly. The poll asked which side would turn the process into a political battle: 33 percent say the Democrats, 27 percent the Republicans and 26 percent “both.” Even 21 percent of self-identified Democrats think their party is more likely to play politics with the nomination process and 15 percent of Republicans think the GOP is.
If Bush nominates a “well-qualified strong conservative,” by 62 percent to 22 percent Americans think Senate Democrats should vote to confirm the nominee, including 78 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of Democrats.
When asked what the Senate Democrats should do if they strongly oppose the president’s nominee, half (51 percent) say they should “allow an up or down vote, even if they might lose,” while 24 percent think the Democrats should draw out the debate to prevent a vote and keep the nominee from being confirmed (what some might describe as a filibuster).
The U.S. Constitution says the president "by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint” judges of the Supreme Court. The poll asked who should have the strongest voice in selecting justices and a slim 37 percent plurality says the senate, 31 percent the president, with about a quarter saying “both” (24 percent).
The poll shows a consensus on the court’s importance to Americans: 85 percent think Supreme Court decisions influence their life, including more than half (52 percent) that say the decisions affect their life “a lot.”
Reporters and Confidential Sources
Recently, two journalists were threatened with a jail sentence if they failed to reveal their sources in the case of a CIA officer’s name being leaked to the press, which is being investigated by a special prosecutor.
Without referencing this specific instance, this week’s FOX News poll asked Americans what journalists should do when faced with either disobeying a court order and being sent to jail or obeying the court and breaking a promise to a source. Nearly half (47 percent) think the reporter should keep his or her promise, even if it means going to jail, while just over a third (35 percent) say obey the court and tell the source’s name.
• PDF: Click here for full poll results.