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Perceptions of politicization and public preferences toward the Supreme Court

In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has issued rulings of high consequence — such as its 2010 Citizens United decision and the 2012 ruling on the  Affordable Care Act — that remain matters of partisan debate. While the conventional view of judges is that they should operate above public opinion and ideology, some research suggests that the Court’s rulings may be shaped by political considerations. Of course, the Supreme Court nominating process itself has also become a more political process in recent decades. How the public will continue to regard a judiciary with more perceived politicization, though, remains an outstanding question.

A 2011 study by researchers at George Washington University and Duke University published in Public Opinion Quarterly, “Political Justice? Perceptions of Politicization and Public Preferences Toward the Supreme Court Appointment Process,” analyzes more than 1,500 citizen responses to the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s 2005 Supreme Court Survey to gauge public attitudes toward the Supreme Court and the appointment process.

Key study findings include:

The authors conclude that “the more citizens see the [Supreme] Court in political terms, the more they prefer that the processes by which justices are appointed be political and ideological in nature… [and] if large segments of the public prefer a political appointment process, then their representatives in government will be less bound to norms of objectivity in the appointment process.”

Tags: Congress, campaign issue

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By October 3, 2011