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Justices For All? Justices For All?

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Justices For All?

Voters Are Not Happy With The Nation's Highest Court; Plus: McCain And Obama Fail To Make The Honor Roll

The American public's dissatisfaction with President Bush and Congress has reached record levels this summer. And a new survey from Quinnipiac University shows that the third branch of government has not escaped the nation's ire, either. Disapproval of the U.S. Supreme Court has reached its highest levels in recent years.

A 43 percent plurality told Quinnipiac pollsters that they disapprove of the job the Supreme Court is doing, while just 39 percent approve. This represents a 19-percentage-point decline in the court's approval rating since May 2007 and marks the first time in the university's five years of polling on the issue that respondents' assessment of the court has been negative. More than 4 in 10 voters worry that the court is moving in the wrong direction, including 51 percent of Democrats. Perhaps underscoring the political tensions inherent in the court's decisions, 87 percent of respondents said that appointment of Supreme Court justices is very or somewhat important to them when considering whom to vote for in this year's presidential election.


Just one-third of voters said the court is placed "about right" along the ideological spectrum. One-quarter said that the court is too liberal, while 31 percent deemed the justices too conservative. Democrats and Republicans also have very different views of how the court should rule, making it difficult to please both sides simultaneously. Nearly 6 in 10 Republicans subscribe to originalism, the belief that the court should consider only the original intentions of the framers of the Constitution when making decisions. Sixty-four percent of Democrats, on the other hand, are advocates of a "living Constitution," arguing that the court should also consider current circumstances and the way times have changed.

The partisan divide, predictably, extends to the social issues the court has taken up. In June, the court issued its first ruling on the Second Amendment's right to bear arms in over 70 years, striking down a ban on handguns in Washington, D.C. Republicans were presumably pleased with the ruling, as 63 percent of GOP voters told Quinnipiac pollsters that they oppose stricter gun control laws. Nearly three-quarters of Democrats, on the other hand, support tighter gun control. Both sides agree, however, that a total ban on gun ownership would be undesirable.

In another recent decision [PDF], the court ruled that a mandatory death sentence for those convicted of child rape is unconstitutional. Sixty-one percent of Republicans, however, told Quinnipiac pollsters that execution is an appropriate punishment for such a crime; 55 percent of independents and 50 percent of Democrats agreed. When given the choice, a 58 percent majority of Democrats chose life without parole as their preferred method of punishing murderers, with just 34 percent choosing the death penalty. Six in 10 Republicans maintained that a jail sentence is not sufficient.


Quinnipiac's survey also confirms the divisiveness of the abortion issue. Nineteen percent of respondents told pollsters that abortion should be legal in all cases, 38 said it should be legal in most cases, 24 percent favored a ban in most cases and 14 percent would like to see it outlawed in all cases. When asked about Roe v. Wade, 77 percent of Democrats said the court ruled correctly in the case, while 53 percent of Republicans disagreed.

Campaign Report Cards

If presidential campaigning were a high school subject, Barack Obama and John McCain would not be candidates for the honor roll. In fact, they would merely be average, according to National Journal's political insiders, who graded the two men this week on their performance so far this summer.

Nearly 6 in 10 Republican insiders gave McCain a C, with the rest of the grades split evenly between B and D. "McCain hates scripted campaigns. But guess what: Scripted campaigns win," scoffed one insider who gave the candidate a D. Still, others showed more hope: "Holding his own at this point in fundraising. And recent changes have his campaign ready for the final few months," said an insider who handed him a B.

Democrats were slightly tougher on the Arizona senator, giving him a C- overall. "McCain's campaign continues to be a bunch of tactical fits and starts of little consequence," said one Dem insider in the 44 percent plurality who gave him a C. Nearly 4 in 10 Democratic insiders gave McCain a D. "The McCain surrogates have been a disaster," one of them said.


GOP insiders gave Obama a C+ overall, with a 44 percent plurality handing him a B and another 42 percent a C. They weren't shy about noting the good in the Illinois senator's campaign. "He has started to solidify his party and to demonstrate a willingness to not be wedded to shrill, liberal policies," acclaimed one, giving Obama a B. Still, others wondered why his lead isn't stronger: "He is winning, but why is he still almost even with McCain? Something is just not right," said one GOP insider.

A full two-thirds of Democrats gave their party's nominee a B, with an overall grade of a B-. Their worries focused on Obama's shift away from the left. "We know he has to position himself in the center, but his vote on [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] and failure to stand up for the Constitution seemed out of character," commented one Dem insider who gave Obama a B. Nearly 3 in 10 were unimpressed with his performance the last few months and gave him a C. "When it was his turn to shine," said one, "Obama used the summer to take the luster off his campaign."

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