April 21st, 2010
12:38 PM ET
10 years ago

CNN Poll: Will Obama name a liberal to Supreme Court?

A majority of Americans expect President Obama to appoint a liberal to the Supreme Court.

A majority of Americans expect President Obama to appoint a liberal to the Supreme Court.

Washington (CNN) - A majority of Americans expect President Obama to appoint a liberal to the Supreme Court, but only one in four want that to happen, according to a new national poll.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday indicates that 61 percent of the public expect the president to nominate a liberal to replace John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, 21 percent said the president will name a moderate and 16 percent predicted that Obama will nominate a conservative.

Full results (pdf)

But only a quarter of those questioned said the president should nominate a liberal, with 37 percent saying they want Obama to name a moderate and 36 percent pulling for a conservative candidate.

The poll's release comes one day before the president hosts Senate Democratic and Republican leaders at the White House to discuss the vacancy on the high court. Among the participants in the meeting will be the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will most likely hold confirmation hearings this summer.

Stevens, who turns 90 Tuesday, announced earlier this month that he would retire from the high court at the end of this session. Stevens is considered the leader of the liberal block of the court.

"If Obama appoints a liberal, that is likely to be seen as a way to shore up support in his own party," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "But only 46 percent of Democrats want him to choose a liberal; 34 percent of Democrats want a moderate nominee and one in five want a conservative."

Not surprisingly, more than six in ten Republicans questioned in the survey want a conservative nominee, with three in ten saying they want the president to nominate at moderate and only 9 percent calling for Obama to choose a liberal.

One issue that is certain to come up at confirmation hearings is abortion. The survey indicates that 21 percent now say abortion should be legal in all circumstances.

"That's the lowest that number has been since 1985," Holland said.

Another 13 percent said abortion should be legal in most circumstances, and 42 percent said that should be the case in only a few circumstances. Just over one in five indicate abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted April 9-11, with 1,008 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

- CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report


Filed under: CNN poll • President Obama • Supreme Court
soundoff (327 Responses)
  1. Victim of GOP Taliban

    The Supreme Court nominee is not a popularity contest. If the activist Conservatives have a majority...then it doesn't take rocket science to figure out we need more balance by appointing a liberal.

    April 21, 2010 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  2. slipthalo

    The retiring Justice is a liberal so why wouldn't/shouldn't he replace him with a liberal? I'd like to see more detail on this poll.

    April 21, 2010 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  3. chris adams

    Obama is a middle of the road liberal-of course his pick will reflect that- so what? That's what every president does.

    April 21, 2010 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  4. Wmscot

    They did not poll me or any of my friends and aquaintances !
    We have to many pro business judges on the court and we need a judge that will be of the standard of Judge Stevens !

    April 21, 2010 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  5. sanitycheck

    It would be stupid to appoint a conservative to the court. Conservatives embody everything that is wrong with our country. We should vote all conservatives out of all elected positions. If we did, we would see our government work in a much more intelligent way and, it would work for us, instead of for corporations.

    April 21, 2010 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  6. MartinD28

    Nonsense, this is no warning AT ALL. The poll would've been reversed should Palin or McCain be president, meaning the tally for moderate plus liberal would outnumber conservative. If a conservative was president, as in Bush, then he'd likely ignore poll results and give us the next Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Kennedy, or Thomas. Obama should absoulutely name a liberal. The only risk with the public would be if he named someone deemed not professionally qualified, as Bush attempted with Harriet Miers. What the country needs is for either Kennedy or Scalia to retire so the "5-4 vote" can begin to go the otherway, as it should.

    April 21, 2010 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  7. Ben

    Who cares what the public wants in this situation? I don't think anyone that would hold it against Obama for nominating a liberal will be voting for him anyway. The point of having the president get to appoint Supreme Court justices is just another way of checking/balancing things. Have the liberals appoint liberals have the conservatives appoint conservatives, and have the moderates appoint moderates (ha!). As we've seen recently it is often difficult to define what liberal and conservative even mean when talking about interpreting the law...look at this recent court decision....8-1, with many supposedly conservative judges taking a liberal reading of the first amendment. The President should appoint someone who he believes is qualified, would be fair, and who has ideals similar to his...and then its up to the Senate to make sure that person isn't extreme, under-qualified, or unfair.

    April 21, 2010 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  8. whocareswhatmynameis

    CNN pollsters have always been right about what the people really think, LOL.

    April 21, 2010 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  9. James

    I didn't vote for George W. Bush and I didn't like his appointments to the SC, but when he picked his Justices and they were confirmed, I lived with it. Americans who now see the other side of the coin now with Obama should do the same.

    April 21, 2010 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  10. Joe Rockbottom

    Well, he can't name a "conservative," of course because we already have four ultra-right-wing fantantic conservatives on the court (well, to be fair, actually 3 ultra right wing fanantics and one ultra right wing fanatical whacko). And a "moderate" these days is very right wing, so that leaves the only choice left in America – a center-right "liberal." There are no real liberals in America now, even Obama is right of center in his politics. Most amercians don't realize this because most people in the US are right wingers.

    April 21, 2010 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  11. If We Can Defeat Him On Healthcare, It Will Be His Waterloo

    In related news, a majority of those polled said that CNN runs too many ridiculous, meaningless and irrelevant polls.

    April 21, 2010 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  12. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    I'm sure the Republicans submitted Sarah or Todd Palin's name to the list of potential justices, those seem to be the qualifications they like.

    April 21, 2010 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  13. larry buchas

    Forget the poll. After Bush named activist judges Roberts and Alito to join Scalia and Thomas, we can't afford that route.

    That recent decision to throw unlimited corporate money at campaigns only made Washington worse.

    April 21, 2010 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  14. N in Texas

    Pick a liberal, President Obama.

    April 21, 2010 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  15. George Sales

    Elections have results. Conservatives have no say in this! As a liberal Democrat, I'm hoping for a thoughtful, progressive, intelligent, black woman. So yes, Sarah Palin, need not apply.

    April 21, 2010 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  16. Shana

    Really, CNN? Presidents understandably almost always nominate their own to the SC, and their opponents would rather that they didn't?

    It would be more reasonable to nominate a moderate if there weren't a need to balance out some crazy activist right-wingers on the court. (I'm glaring at you, Scalito.)

    April 21, 2010 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  17. Jerry

    Nomatter who Obama nominates, the right will label them a liberal, so why bother trying to placate them? Just nominate a liberal.

    April 21, 2010 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  18. Dave

    He can do it but the numbers in the senate suggest he better pick a moderate.

    April 21, 2010 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  19. Luis Gonzalez

    Why not a liberal....???? this country is going backward in social issues because of the conservatives running the court. get over!!!!!

    April 21, 2010 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  20. please

    It better be a liberal, another conservative on the bench god help us all ~ corporations would have more rights then citizens. (They almost already do).

    Bush nominated staunch conservatives, why shouldn't Obama nominate a staunch liberal?

    April 21, 2010 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  21. Greg, San Francisco, CA

    He could nominate Mussolini and the Republicans will yell and scream that the pick is too liberal.

    April 21, 2010 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  22. Rodney Wright

    I do not know where they get these numbers, 100 percent in our
    family want a liberal and proud of it, the old mule expects and
    wants a liberal also

    April 21, 2010 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  23. xmleft

    This Supreme Court pick is unlike no other. Pres. Obama should not make his choice based upon some poll. This person could sit on the court for 40 years. He should be able to make his pick and be ableto sleep at night knowing in his heart, he made the right choice.

    April 21, 2010 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  24. tffl

    I don't really care what Republicans want – they lost the election. They have also "gotten" conservative to very conservative nominees for the last several justices – turnabout is fair play. Right now, the court is very beholden to commercial and religious interests – I'm ready for a justice that will be "for the people". Note that the Constitution gives rights and powers to citizens (people), _not_ businesses and churches. I'm not quite sure how the "strict constructionist" conservative justices have found in that document rights for businesses and churches that outweighs the rights of citizens...

    April 21, 2010 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  25. mary winters

    I'm not sure what difference it will make. The majority judges seem to function as political hacks. Tea baggers in black robes. the days of honest, ethical statesmen are behind us.

    April 21, 2010 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
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