WASHINGTON (AP) — About 2 in 3 Americans say they support term limits or a mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court justices, according to a new poll that finds a sharp rise in the percentage of Americans saying that they have “little” confidence in seeking it.
The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll finds 67% of Americans support a proposal to set a specific number of years judges serve instead of lifetime terms, including 82% of Democrats and 57 % of Republicans. Opinions are similar on the requirement that judges must retire at a specific age.
The poll was taken just weeks after the High Court handed down high-profile rulings, including stripping women’s constitutional abortion protections and expanding gun rights. The poll also shows that more Americans disapprove than they approve of the court’s decision on abortion, with just over half saying the ruling made them “angry” or “sad.” “.
The court, which is now taking a summer break, will resume hearings in October with diminished confidence among Americans. Today, 43% say they have almost no confidence in the court, up from 27% three months ago.
Inez Parker of Currie, North Carolina, said she was among those strongly in favor of limits on serving judges. “I think some of these people have been around too long. They have no new ideas. When you get to a certain age and everything you do, just like I am in my routine,” the 84-year-old Democrat said.
Parker said retired judges can “work in their yard, sit on the porch and the fans fly or whatever they want to do.”
The Constitution gives federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, a life term, but there have recently been calls for change. A commission appointed by President Joe Biden to review potential changes to the Supreme Court has studied term limits among other issues. The commission finished its work last year and its members were ultimately divided on whether they thought Congress had the power to pass legislation creating the equivalent of term limits.
Phil Boller, 90, of LaFollette, Tennessee, said he was not totally opposed to setting a limit on years of service for judges. The Republican who worked in broadcasting and later owned his own lawn care business said “essentially it’s worked out the way it does and I don’t see any reason to change that.”
The oldest member of the current court is Justice Clarence Thomas, 74, followed by Justice Samuel Alito, 72. But recent judges have served up to 80 years. Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg served until her death in 2020 at age 87. Justice Anthony Kennedy retired in 2018 at age 81. And Judge Stephen Breyer just retired at 83.
Ginsburg served for 27 years, Kennedy for 30 years and Breyer for almost 28 years.
Four new members have joined the court in the past five years, bringing down the average age of court members. Three justices are in their 60s: Chief Justice John Roberts, 67, and Justices Sonia Sotomayor, 68, and Elena Kagan, 62. The other judges are in their fifties. Neil Gorsuch is 54, Brett Kavanaugh 57, Amy Coney Barrett 50 and Ketanji Brown Jackson 51.
Another proposal considered by Biden’s committee was to increase the number of justices on the court, and the poll shows that proposal is also dividing Americans. Overall, 34% say they support it, 34% oppose it and 32% say they have no opinion. Democrats are more for than against, 52% to 14%, while Republicans are more against than for, 61% to 14%.
The poll also revealed heightened dissatisfaction with the court since three months ago, before the court overturned Roe v. Wade of 1973 guaranteeing the right to abortion.
In the April poll, conducted before a draft court ruling was leaked, 18% said they had a great deal of confidence, 54% said they had only some confidence and 27% said they had no confidence. virtually none. Now, 17% say they have a great deal of confidence, 39% only some confidence and 43% hardly any.
Patrick Allen, a Democrat from Logan, Utah, is one of those with virtually no confidence in the court. Allen, 33, said he felt judges usually vote on issues based on the party of the president who nominated them. “They stick more to their guns in the direction of their party rather than the Constitution,” he said.
The poll shows that the decline in confidence is concentrated among Democrats, adding to evidence that the court’s decision on abortion has aggravated and polarized the court’s already tenuous views. A large partisan divide in the court’s opinions that did not exist before the decision was rendered; 64% of Democrats say they have almost no confidence, down from 27% in April. Another 31% have only a little and only 4% have a lot of confidence, compared to 17%.
Among Republicans, however, opinions on the court have improved. Today, 34% say they have a great deal of confidence, up from 21% in the previous poll. A further 47% have only some confidence and 18% almost none.
Overall, more Americans disapprove than approve of the decision to overturn Roe, 53% to 30%; A further 16% say they have no opinion. On this decision too, there is a wide split between parties – 63% of Republicans approve, while 80% of Democrats disagree.
The poll of 1,085 adults was conducted July 14-17 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.