By Mike Mokrzycki
Nearly six in 10 Americans support Elena Kagan’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, a view that’s typically partisan and ideological, but also in line with previous successful nominees the past two decades.
Fifty-eight percent in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll say the U.S. Senate should confirm Kagan, the U.S. solicitor general and President Obama’s second Supreme Court nominee. Twenty-four percent oppose confirmation, with 18 percent undecided.
Views on Kagan are polarized, though not significantly more so than usual for recent nominees. Eighty-three percent of Democrats and 78 percent of liberals support her, compared with 36 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of conservatives. Outright opposition among Republicans and conservatives falls below half – 43 and 42 percent, respectively, with a fifth in both groups undecided.
In the political and ideological middle, 63 percent of moderates and 52 percent of independents favor Kagan’s confirmation.
HISTORY – Initial support for eventually successful nominees has averaged 57 percent in previous ABC/Post polls, albeit with a range – 63 percent for Clarence Thomas in 1991, 57 percent for Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993, 52 percent for Stephen Breyer in 1994, 59 percent for John Roberts in 2005, 49 percent for Samuel Alito later that year and 62 percent for Sonia Sotomayor last year.
That average excludes Harriet Miers, whose backing in 2005 was just 33 percent shortly before her nomination was withdrawn; and Robert Bork, also unsuccessful, who started at 29 percent support in a Harris poll after his nomination in 1987.
About two in 10 on average have had no opinion on these nominations, about the same as in Kagan’s case. Among only those with an opinion, 71 percent support her, again in line with the average, 72 percent, for past successful nominees.
Obama nominated Kagan, a former Harvard Law School dean who’s never been a judge, May 10. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to begin hearings late this month.
GROUPS – Kagan finds greater support from women than men (61 vs. 54 percent); women are 12 points more apt than men to be Democrats. Kagan also does better with younger adults, with 66 percent support among those under age 40, vs. 49 percent among seniors.
Kagan wins more support in other disproportionately Democratic groups, such as non-whites, the non-religious and postgraduates; and less support in those that include more Republicans, such as evangelical white Protestants. Even in that group, though, more say she should be confirmed, 45 percent, than oppose her, 32 percent.
QUESTION TIME – In 1995, after working as a staff lawyer on the Judiciary Committee as it considered Ginsburg’s nomination, Kagan wrote that confirmation hearings have become a “vapid and hollow charade.” She wrote: “Not since Bork has any nominee candidly discussed, or felt a need to discuss, his or her views and philosophy.”
When Kagan has her own chance with the committee, the public would like to hear more: Sixty-six percent say she should answer questions at her confirmation hearing on how she would have ruled on past cases that have come before the Supreme Court.
Somewhat fewer, 54 percent, also say she should disclose her views on legal abortion. That’s 10 points fewer than the number who said Roberts should answer the abortion question in 2005.
Republicans are 20 points more apt than Democrats to say Kagan should state her position on abortion. In 2005, the tables were turned: Democrats were 32 points more likely than Republicans to say Roberts should make his views on abortion known.
In an ABC/Post poll this April, 59 percent said the next justice should vote to uphold the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, close to the average, 62 percent, in ABC/Post polls the past five years.
Click here for the poll questions and overall results.