IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Americans frustrated with Supreme Court: Poll

A new survey says Americans think the Supreme Court is too favorable to corporations and that Justices should face term limits.
Heavy rain
People wait in line in a steady rain to enter the Supreme Court Tuesday morning.

A majority of Americans view the Supreme Court unfavorably, believe the high court is too friendly toward corporations, and would prefer term limits to lifetime appointments, according to a new survey conducted by the Mellman Group. 

The survey was commissioned by the Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC), a liberal legal organization that has been highly critical of the Roberts Court. Below are some of the highlights:

  • Sixty percent view the court negatively, versus 33% who view it positively. Moderate Democrats and Republicans are more likely to see the high court positively, while liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans are more likely to view it negatively. 
  • Fifty-five percent overall see the high court as treating corporations more favorably than individuals, as well as majorities of independents and Democrats. Only 32% believe individuals and corporations are treated equally. Republicans, overall, are less likely to see things that way. Only 37% of conservative Republicans believe the high court treats corporations more favorably than individuals, while 45% believe it treats them equally. Seventy-one percent of liberal Democrats believe the Supreme Court treats corporations more favorably than individuals. CAC has been highly critical of what it sees as the Roberts' Court's pro-business tilt.
  • Fifty-one percent overall believe Democrats were right to alter the Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster for judicial nominees, a number that rises to 54% if the poll question mentions Republicans "abusing the rules." 
  • Around 70% believe that lifetime appointments to the high court should be eliminated in favor of term limits, a number that did not change significantly when the survey question states that "the U.S. Constitution gives Justices on the Supreme Court lifetime appointments." (Whether the Constitution does that is a matter of controversy among some legal scholars). Democrats, Independents and Republicans surveyed all favor term limits for Supreme Court justices. 
  • More than half of the respondents (61%) believed Supreme Court arguments should be televised (with 48% strongly supporting that view) with a majority of Democrats (65%) support cameras in the courtroom, a position also supported by half of Republicans (50%). 

The survey also measured the appeal of the conservative judicial philosophy of originalism -- or "original meaning" -- against "living constitutionalism" and the Constitutional Accountability Center's approach, which some have described as "liberal originalism" or "new textualism."

Originalism, in both its conservative and liberal varieties, focuses on the history and context of the U.S. Constitution as a guide to constitutional interpretation, with groups like the Constitutional Accountability Center seeking to challenge the notion that such an approach inevitably leads to conservative outcomes. 

Among liberals, living constitutionalism -- the idea that the meaning of the Constitution evolves over time -- has actually fallen out of favor. You won't find any of President Barack Obama's recent Supreme Court nominees, for example, explicitly endorsing that approach. The survey found that the Constitutional Accountability Center's "liberal originalism" polls slightly better against the conservative approach. Forty-nine percent preferred CAC's approach to conservative originalism, while conservative originalism actually polled slightly better than living constitutionalism, forty-eight to forty-seven percent.

CAC's survey contrasts markedly with one released by the Pew Center on the People and the Press in early May. That survey found that a majority of the population at large, including majorities of Republicans and Democrats, viewed the high court favorably. Despite the Supreme Court's overall conservative tilt, Republicans were slightly less likely to view the high court positively.

This post originally reported that 48% of respondents supported televising Supreme Court arguments. Sixty-one percent support televising hearings, and 48% strongly support that view.