Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Polling constitutionalism

This poll suggests, among other things, that we have our work cut out for us. While I’m not quite sure what people were thinking when they answered in this way, 52% agreed that "[i]n making decisions, the Supreme Court should consider changing times and current realities in applying the principles of the Constitution." Only 40% averred that "the Supreme Court should only consider the original intentions of the authors of the Constitution." Why, then, do we need a legislature?

Other interesting/disturbing findings include these:

*57% of respondents think abortion should be legal in most or all cases (a result that has remained stable over the past few years).

*Roughly equal proportions of respondents support same-sex marriage, civil unions, or no recognition. Asked simply if they favor or oppose same-sex marriage, opponents lead 55-36, but 40% of the opponents could live with (so to speak) civil unions, if state courts permitted them to occupy this middle ground.

*Roughly similar proportions oppose requiring a state to recognize same-sex marriages performed in another state (50-44) and a law in their state banning same-sex marriage (49-45). Much of the opposition to same-sex marriage seems to be "personal." People are "pro-choice" here, not fully realizing that being pro-choice is the same as favoring same-sex marriage.

*A small majority favors some sort of faith-based initiative, while a much larger majority doesn’t think that religious organizations that accept government money "should be able to discriminate in favor of hiring people of their own faith." One wonders if the answers would be different if the question were different. How would you answer this: "Do you think that religious organizations that accept federal money should have the same hiring rights as other religious groups?" Or this: "Do you think that religious groups that accept federal money ought to be able to hire only those who support their mission, just as other recipients of federal money can?"

*By a 43-39 margin, respondents disapprove of the way the Supreme Court is doing its job. By a 42-33 margin, respondents think the Court is moving in the wrong direction. The Court’s positive rating has dropped almost 20% in little more than a year. The right direction/wrong direction numbers have flipped in a little less than a year. This suggests that those who think that judicial nominations are an issue that cuts in favor of John McCain might be mistaken, although independents are evenly split (41-41) on the first question and very narrowly take the wrong direction side on the second one.

For me, the bottom line is this: on many of the matters treated in this poll, people are relying on the haziest of impressions, largely formed by media coveerage. Getting their attention and changing their minds is extremely hard work. But there’s no better time than during a presidential campaign to try to do it.

Hat tip: MOJ’s Rob Vischer.

Update: Rick Garnett has more.

Discussions - 6 Comments

The wording of the questions probably matters. A majority might think that abortion should be legal in "almost all cases," but how would they respond to a more specific questions about late-term abortions or even mid-term abortions? Similarly, what do they think of recent decisions on gun control? Do they think that the americans have a constitutional right to have guns in their homes and to use them against intruders? Etc.

on many of the matters treated in this poll, people are relying on the haziest of impressions, largely formed by media coveerage.



You're probably right. However, I'd bet that there are a lot of people also relying on a constant appeal to the unquestioned authority of the Founders.

"Getting their attention and changing their minds is extremely hard work. But there’s no better time than during a presidential campaign to try to do it."

Come on. Do you really think John McCain is even capable of trying to "[g]et[] [people's] attention and chang[e] their minds" on these matters? Please.

I agree with Comment 1 about the effect of vague and ambiguous formulation of polling questions, and also with the post's indictment of the hazy impressions people form based on biased (and ignorant) media coverage. At this late date, however, I suspect that leftist propaganda dispensed at most high schools and colleges (in the guise of instruction on history and government) plays a major role in creating an electorate that is largely indifferent to the preservation of its own political power. It is difficult not to be pessimistic about the likelihood of a reversal of the degredation of the public's concept of American citizenship that has occurred over the last 2 or 3 generations.

In so far as there are people like John who suggest that both political parties and the candidates are in the pocket of Wall Street...To the extent that such a view is dominant, which seems the case among a lot of independents, then the naked appeal to the role of the legistlature is without much appeal. The key then isn't naked confidence in the Supreme Court but the ratio of confidence between the Supreme Court and Congress.

In general I would argue that the american people still have more confidence in the objectivity and judgement of lawyers and judges(despite hateing and resenting some of them) than they do of the executive or legistlative branches.

In this sense all further education concerning the role of the particular branches is abstract, because it all comes down to which authority can be trusted more.

In particular the american people assume that in terms of education, everything runs up into a problem of infinite regress. You can think yourself educated, but there is always someone who knows more. The american people would then rationally assume that lawyers and judges are the most educated in the particular lines of argument that would constitute any particular partial education. In other words a lot of these legal arguments are complex, and by and large the legal community does a much better job of being objective and impartial than politicians who of necessity must be more machiavellian.

In this sense then speaking only for myself, I defer to the legal establishment. In part because it seems that the 52% of those who say that "[i]n making decisions, the Supreme Court should consider changing times and current realities in applying the principles of the Constitution." are simply taking this side of the question because they roughly speaking believe this will result in a "liberal" outcome and likewise for the 40% of those who say that "the Supreme Court should only consider the original intentions of the authors of the Constitution" in terms of conservative outcome.

In other words by virtue of making it a political issue one makes it a liberal vs. conservative outcome issue, that is largely independent from legal arguments themselves.

Once you go down the road of politicizing the Court you automatically negate the possibility of being strict in adherence to the Constitution itself.

In this sense Kant gets the last word.

This suggests that those who think that judicial nominations are an issue that cuts in favor of John McCain might be mistaken, although independents are evenly split (41-41)

That's an odd conclusion to draw. At least I don't see how it's supported by the numbers provided, unless the assumption is that the dissatisfaction with the court is driven by the decisions like Heller and not by those like Boudemaine. But I believe I've seen polls saying the exact opposite.

In general I would argue that the american people still have more confidence in the objectivity and judgment of lawyers and judges(despite hating and resenting some of them) than they do of the executive or legislative branches.

Interesting, I had not thought about it in exactly this way before. As a conservative, I have found myself moving to an "independent" voter as I have realized that the Rockefellers are in firm control of the GOP. With no conservative governance possible from the two dominant parties, is the legal branch my only hope for something resembling acceptable governance? Wow, perhaps I am for Judicial overreach!

Problem is, the liberals appointed uber activist judges long ago, so theirs is no real "educated" or "objective" thought...

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