Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Supreme Court: Conservative? Liberal?

In the weeks ahead, all of the usual culture-war debates (abortion, affirmative action, etc.) are sure to flourish during the Senate confirmation hearings for President Obama’s pick to fill retiring Justice David Souter’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor. One word Sotomayor’s opposition is sure to throw around is “liberal,” but how much do Americans know about the ideology of Supreme Court members? In a December 2008 survey, a small majority (53%) correctly said that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, nominated in 2005 by President Bush, is generally considered to be a conservative. About one-in-ten incorrectly identified Roberts as a liberal while another one-in-ten labeled him a moderate. The remaining respondents (25%) said they did not know. The number of Americans citing Roberts as a conservative is up from 37% in February 2007, and significantly higher than the 30% who, in 1989, correctly identified William Rehnquist, Robert’s predecessor as chief justice, as a conservative. Knowledge of Roberts’ ideology is on par with identification of Robert Gates as secretary of defense but well below knowledge of which party controls the House of Representatives. Read More