The next Supreme Court justice will join the bench at a time when the public has more confidence in the high court than in Congress or the presidency.
A Gallup survey in June found 37 percent of Americans have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the court, while another 42 percent have “some” confidence. Only 18 percent have little or no confidence in the court.
Those are sterling marks compared with the court’s neighbor on Capitol Hill: Just 11 percent of Americans say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in Congress and nearly half say they have little or no confidence in the nation’s legislature.
Down Pennsylvania Avenue, confidence in the White House is on par with that of the Supreme Court — though 44 percent of Americans have little or no confidence in it.
While the public’s overall view of the court has remained steady over the past decade, there’s been a shift this year as Republicans and GOP-leaning independents were more likely to express confidence in the court than Democrats and left-leaning independents were.
That change comes after a just-concluded term in which retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy sided with conservative-leaning justices on rulings that blessed President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from several Muslim nations, placed new limits on public-employee unions and struck down a California law aimed at regulating anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers, among others.
Trump’s choice — a former Kennedy clerk, Brett Kavanaugh, who currently sits on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit — will almost certainly push the court to the right. More Americans believe the court is “too conservative” than say it’s “too liberal,” according to a Quinnipiac poll conducted after Kennedy announced his plans to step down.
But 41 percent of Americans think the court’s ideological balance is about right.
A look at public opinion on some of the key issues facing the justices in the coming years:
Trump’s nominee is sure to face an avalanche of questions about the court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that established a women’s constitutional right to abortion. A majority of Americans thinks the court shouldn’t overturn Roe and most think abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
In mid-June, before Kennedy’s retirement announcement, a poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 67 percent of Americans would not like to see Roe overturned, while 29 percent would. There are no differences in that opinion between men and women, though younger women are especially likely to say they do not want to see Roe overturned.
Democrats overwhelmingly support Roe, while Republicans narrowly support overturning the decision, the poll found.
The Kaiser poll’s findings largely match results in others surveys on the topic, regardless of question wording or polling organization conducting the research.
TRUMP’S TRAVEL BAN
In a 5-to-4 decision announced at the end of the court’s recently concluded term, the Supreme Court upheld Trump’s ban on travel into the United States for citizens of several majority-Muslim countries, as well as North Korea and some Venezuelan government officials and their families.
After the ruling, a Quinnipiac poll found Americans split over the issue. While 49 percent of the public approve of the court’s decision, another 46 percent disapprove. As with many issues with ties to Trump, the public is divided across partisan lines, with Republicans mostly approving of the policy and Democrats largely opposed.
Before the 2020 presidential elections, the court may revisit several cases it sent back to the lower courts this term that confront the fairness of electoral maps and issues related to voting rights.
Poll results on gerrymandering are limited, but a Pew Research Center survey earlier this year measured the public’s views on the importance of specific aspects of American elections.
A wide 83 percent majority said it is very important that no eligible voters are prevented from voting, while about two-thirds said it was very important that no ineligible voters are permitted to vote. Roughly three-quarters placed great importance on congressional districts being determined in a fair and reasonable way.
In assessing both issues, there is a clear partisan split. Republicans are more likely to say ineligible voters casting ballots is a problem, while Democrats are more focused on issues with voting access. They also focus on political gerrymandering, which is less of an issue for Republicans.
RELIGIOUS LIBERTY AND LGBT RIGHTS
The court will continue to face cases involving conflict between businesses that cite faith-based objections to laws aimed at protecting the rights of gay and lesbian people.
It’s difficult for a survey questions to clearly and responsibly reflect the debate over specific gay-rights issues, such as businesses refusing services to same-sex couples or restroom policies as they relate to transgender people.
However, in May 2017, a Gallup poll found Americans divided over whether new civil rights laws are needed to reduce discrimination against LGBT people: 51 percent said new laws are needed, while 46 percent said they are not.
The Supreme Court is also sure to hear cases in future terms from death row inmates seeking stays of execution. Earlier this year, a Pew Research Center survey found public support for the death penalty for those convicted of murder.
A modest 54 percent majority of Americans favor the death penalty, compared with 39 percent who are opposed. Support for the death penalty has fallen over the past two decades, though the shift in opinion is concentrated among Democrats and independents. Republicans remain largely in favor of capital punishment.
The court has not taken on a major gun rights case since 2010, but it may be more likely to do so with a new voice on the bench.
Earlier this year, a survey by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found Americans in favor of stricter gun laws. A 69 percent majority said gun laws in the U.S. should be tougher, compared with 22 percent who thought they should be left as they are and just 9 percent who said they should be less strict.