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Americans Don't Know Much About Sotomayor Americans Don't Know Much About Sotomayor

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Americans Don't Know Much About Sotomayor

But A Positive View Predominates Among Those Who Say They Do

Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court confirmation hearings are almost a month away, and it's not just Senate Republicans who say they need more time.

Some 58 percent of respondents in a CBS News/New York Times survey that wrapped up this week say they haven't heard enough about President Obama's nominee to form an opinion on her or haven't made up their minds. In addition, 53 percent couldn't say if she should be confirmed or rejected. On both questions, about one-third of respondents viewed her positively and 9 percent negatively.

 

Respondents in a poll conducted at about the same time for NBC News and the Wall Street Journal were a little more certain -- 43 percent supported her either strongly or somewhat, 20 percent opposed her, and 35 percent didn't know enough to say. That's still more familiarity than George W. Bush's three nominees got: Forty-seven percent said they didn't know enough about Samuel Alito in November 2005, 51 percent were uncertain about Harriet Miers that October, and 41 percent couldn't say about John Roberts when he was up for chief justice that September.

Even though Americans may be holding back on Sotomayor, they say they are following the nomination news -- 61 percent of respondents in the CBS/Times poll said they're following the process very closely or somewhat closely. Maybe it's just that there's been less and less coverage in the weeks between her nomination and her hearings. According to a weekly news index by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, Sotomayor was the "lead newsmaker" in 14 percent of stories the first week of her nomination, then 5 percent the following week and a scant 2 percent last week.

Both polls ask respondents what kind of associate justice Sotomayor would be. Despite critics' charges of racial preferences based on her "wise Latina woman" comments and her role in Ricci v. DeStefano, the New Haven firefighters case, 55 percent in the CBS/Times poll said she would treat all groups the same under the law (24 percent didn't know or didn't answer). In the Journal/NBC poll, those who said Sotomayor fell outside the Supreme Court mainstream edged out those who felt she was within it, 33 percent to 28 percent -- but "no opinion" beat both, at 35 percent.

 

A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll that came out June 12 provides arguably the clearest picture of Americans' day-to-day involvement with the Supreme Court. When asked which current justice they most admire or agree with, half said they didn't know. The leading vote-getters? At 11 percent, Clarence Thomas -- and Sandra Day O'Connor, who retired in 2005.

Amy Mitchell, director of Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism, compares the nomination process to hiring a financial adviser: People know the justices manage something important, but the details often fade into the background. "People care about it as the confirmation process is happening. They want to know who the individual is and how he or she might be on the court," Mitchell said. "But they don't follow the Supreme Court workings on a regular basis."

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