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Most Americans say it’s important for the Supreme Court to look like the country as a whole

In a new Monmouth University survey, 69% of Americans say it’s at least somewhat important for the Supreme Court to look like the racial, ethnic and gender composition of the country as a whole, with 46% saying it’s very important. Majorities of women (54%), Black Americans (78%) and Democrats (80%) consider such representation to be very important. That aligns with a Pew Research poll released last week, in which about two-thirds of Americans said that having a Black woman on the Supreme Court would be at least somewhat historically important, with 43% calling it very or extremely important.
The surveys were taken following President Joe Biden’s nomination of Jackson to the Supreme Court, but before the start of her confirmation hearings on Monday. The polls find that Americans start off with largely positive or uncertain feelings about her nomination — not unusual for a potential Supreme Court Justice. Across four — Monmouth’s, Pew’s and surveys from Quinnipiac University and Gallup — an average of 52% thought Jackson should be confirmed by the Senate, with only about 23% saying she should not be, and the remaining one-quarter that they weren’t sure.

“For too long, our government, our courts haven’t looked like America,” Biden said in announcing Jackson as his nominee. “I believe it’s time that we have a court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation with a nominee of extraordinary qualifications, and that we inspire all young people to believe that they can one day serve their country at the highest level.”

A modest 53% majority of Americans approve of Biden’s decision to make his campaign promise to nominate a Black woman a primary factor in his choice of nominee, Monmouth finds, with 41% disapproving. Just 19% say they expect having a Black woman on the Supreme Court will have a real impact on how cases are decided, while 46% expect it to have only a limited impact, and 31% expect no impact at all.

Even as Americans generally place at least some value on the ideas of diversity and representation, they appear at times less comfortable with endorsing efforts to make decisions explicitly on that basis. Polls taken prior to Biden’s nomination of Jackson demonstrate that disjuncture: Roughly half of Americans, 52%, said in an AP-NORC survey that it was at least somewhat important to them personally that a Black woman become a Supreme Court justice. But an ABC/Ipsos poll that asked whether Biden should “consider all possible nominees” or “consider only nominees who are Black women, as he has pledged to do” found just 23% endorsing a more limited search.
A similar divide showed up in polls taken after Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement from the Supreme Court in 2005. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that September found that just 39% of Americans wanted President George W. Bush to “keep balance and diversity on the Court by nominating a woman or a member of a racial minority,” with most saying he should base his selection solely “on who he thinks would be the best person for the job.” At the same time, however, a separate Newsweek poll found a majority of the public also thought Bush should “take diversity into account,” with 60% saying he should “strongly consider” naming a Black or Hispanic nominee, and 66% that he should strongly consider naming a woman.

It also mirrors longstanding trends in Americans’ overall response to questions about racial disparities and affirmative action.

“A great deal of detailed statistical analysis … has highlighted the social and economic inequities facing Black Americans. And polling shows that Americans clearly favor the idea of remedying this situation and reducing inequalities of outcomes,” Gallup’s Frank Newport wrote in August 2020. “But when it comes to policies that explicitly take race into account in making hiring and promotion decisions in order to remedy past discrimination and overcome implicit bias, the public demurs.”

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