John Roberts' nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court is popular overall, but most Americans want to hear more about his legal views -- including his opinion on Roe v. Wade, a ruling that nearly two-thirds would want to see upheld.
Fifty-nine percent in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll say the Senate should confirm Roberts, putting his nomination in a good initial position. Where it goes from here is an open question. Fourteen years ago, Clarence Thomas started with 63 percent support; it dived after allegations of sexual harassment emerged, then recovered.
|Sampling, data collection and tabulation for this poll were done by TNS.|
Majorities clearly want to hear details from Roberts, who lacks a long judicial record. Sixty-one percent say that at his confirmation hearing he should answer questions about how he would have ruled on past Supreme Court cases. And 64 percent say Roberts should state his position specifically on abortion.
His view on abortion -- the elephant in the room at Supreme Court hearings -- is unclear. As a lawyer in George H.W. Bush's administration, Roberts filed a brief arguing that Roe v. Wade should be overturned. Years later, at his confirmation hearing for the appeals court in 2003, he called Roe "the settled law of the land."
In this survey, 65 percent say that if Roe came before the court again, they'd want Roberts to vote to uphold it. Attitudes on abortion do get more complex from there; most Americans long have supported legal abortion in general, but not when done solely to end an unwanted pregnancy.
Notably, by very large margins, people who say it's not necessary for Roberts to state his position on previous cases, and specifically on Roe, are those who already support his nomination. And people who want Roe overturned are about 20 points more likely to favor his confirmation. Seventy-three percent of Roe opponents want Roberts confirmed, compared with 52 percent (still a narrow majority) of Roe supporters.
There's a sharp division on the question of constitutional interpretation. Fifty percent of Americans say the high court should base its rulings on an understanding of what the Constitution means in current times; but about as many, 46 percent, say the court should rule based on its understanding of the Constitution as originally written.
Roberts is more popular with the "original intent" camp: Among those who prefer a view of the Constitution as written, 67 percent support his nomination. Support drops to 51 percent among those who prefer a more current understanding.
There's also a division on whether qualifications or judicial philosophy should be paramount in the Roberts hearings. Fifty-three percent say senators should support the nomination if they believe Roberts has the right qualifications, even if they disagree with his judicial philosophy. Forty-one percent say such senators should vote no.
Views on this issue also inform differences on the nomination itself. Among those who think qualifications should be paramount, 79 percent favor confirmation. Among those who say judicial philosophy is key, support for the nomination drops steeply, to just 37 percent.
Naturally, partisanship also fuels big differences. Eighty-four percent of Republicans say Roberts should be confirmed; just 41 percent of Democrats agree. Independents, as usual, make the difference, and 58 percent favor the nomination.