- The Washington Times - Monday, October 21, 2019

The public rejects Democrats’ plans to pack the Supreme Court with more members but are strikingly eager to impose term limits on the justices, according to a Marquette University Law School Poll released Monday that took a deep dive into Americans’ views of the unelected branch of government.

Americans are still smarting over Republicans’ move in 2016 to block action on President Barack Obama’s final Supreme Court pick, saving the seat for President Trump to fill.

But should another seat become vacant next year, in the middle of another campaign, the public says it wants Mr. Trump and the Republican-led Senate to fill it without waiting for results of the elections.

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The Marquette survey was released amid growing interest in the Supreme Court thanks to renewed attention from both political parties, each of which complains that the courts are out of control. Mr. Trump has lamented the rise of “Obama judges,” and a prominent Senate Democrat has told the court it’s suffering a “crisis of credibility.”

The public rejects both of those complaints.

In fact, when stacked up against the other two branches of government, the court is seen as far more credible. A whopping 57% picked the Supreme Court, 22% chose Congress and 21% put their faith in the White House.

“On balance, the court does pretty well,” said Charles Franklin, the professor who directs the Marquette poll.

Yet that’s despite — or perhaps because — the public is largely ignorant of the court’s members. A startling 28% of those polled couldn’t name any of the nine justices, and another 11% could name one. Just 12% were familiar with eight or nine.

The most well known were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has become a cult hero to liberals, and Brett M. Kavanaugh, whose nomination battle last year captivated the country. Still, both are unknown by about 2 in 5.

Justice Ginsburg is viewed favorably, 41% to 17%. Justice Gorsuch received a 26% favorable rating and a 32% unfavorable rating.

At the other end is Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who has been on the court for a quarter century, but 84% of those polled said they didn’t know enough about him to form an opinion.

The poll of 1,423 adults nationwide was conducted Sept. 3-13 and serves as a rebuke to those on both ideological wings who insist the court is tainted.

Foremost among those critics is Mr. Trump, who has complained bitterly about adverse rulings from judges appointed by Mr. Obama. A Washington Times analysis of immigration decisions found he has reason to wonder, with Democratic appointees far more likely than Republican appointees to strike down his actions.

The public doesn’t agree.

“A solid majority believe that the court makes decisions primarily on the basis of law rather than politics,” Mr. Franklin said. “The public as a whole does not see the intense partisanship on the court that Senate debate would maybe lead you to conclude, or for that matter interest groups.”

Mr. Trump isn’t the only critic. From the liberal side is Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, who in a brief filed over the summer warned the justices against taking up a New York gun rights case. He told them they had lost the faith of the public to rule on the matter.

“The Supreme Court is not well. And the people know it,” he wrote.

He threatened a restructuring of the court — widely seen as an effort to pack the court with more justices to dilute the balance of five Republican appointees and four Democratic appointees.

That idea has also gained steam among Democratic presidential candidates. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, have signaled an openness to it.

Americans as a whole, though, don’t like the idea, with 57% opposed. Democrats were more inclined toward the idea than Republicans or independents.

What the public does favor is imposing term limits on justices, who currently serve for life. Of those polled, 72% said they wanted limits. That sentiment was strong across all party and ideological lines, suggesting the idea transcends the politics of the moment.

Voters also don’t want the Senate to allow politics to infect the court, the poll showed.

An overwhelming majority said Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, were wrong to refuse to hold a hearing for Judge Merrick Garland, Mr. Obama’s pick in 2016 to take the seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Mr. McConnell said the seat should be filled by the winner of the election, giving the public a say.

But 73% of the Marquette survey said that move was wrong.

Mr. McConnell said that should a vacancy arise in 2020, another election year, then he would move to fill it. He said the situation is different this time because the same party controls the White House and the Senate.

Americans, by a 69-31 split, agreed that a vacancy should be filled.

Marquette also asked about some key upcoming cases in an effort to learn the outcomes Americans want to see — which is different from what may be legal.

The survey found Americans want the court to expand the employment nondiscrimination provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to cover transgender people; want the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals deportation amnesty to be kept intact, over Mr. Trump’s effort to nix it; and support public funds that flow to private schools to be used by all private schools, including those with religious affiliations.

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