The Supremes Are Popular, But Ethics Concerns Abound, New Survey Shows

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent

A new survey shows that the U.S. Supreme Court commands a high degree of confidence from the American people, though concerns about transparency and judicial ethics remain pervasive.

Fix the Court, a nonpartisan Supreme Court watchdog, commissioned the Global Strategy Group and Public Opinion Strategies to conduct the poll, which was taken in mid-May.

“The Supreme Court enjoys something most politicians do not — a favorable image across party lines — yet it’s susceptible to the ethics concerns often expressed by voters about those who reside in D.C.,” said Robert Blizzard of Public Opinion Strategies. “In fact, voters across the board strongly support reforms aimed at providing greater accountability from their justices, whether it be abiding by a formal code of conduct or requiring blind trusts for their financial holdings.”

The Court’s institutional popularity is quite strong. Fifty-seven percent of respondents have a favorable view of the high court, while just 24 percent have an unfavorable view. These figures compare positively with the other two branches of government. The same poll found 44 percent of voters have an approving view of President Donald Trump, while just 30 percent approve of Congress. (RELATED: Netflix’s ‘Making A Murderer’ Shows Grim Reality Of False Confessions, Dassey Lawyers Tell Supreme Court)

The justices themselves are similarly well-liked. Every member of the Court has a 10 to 20 percent net positive job approval rate, though a large swath of respondents did not have a view respecting particular justices. Justices Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg have the strongest approval numbers on the nine-seat tribunal.

Job approval figures for each justice of the Supreme Court. (Screenshot/Fix the Court)

Job approval figures for each justice of the Supreme Court. (Screenshot/Fix the Court)

Forty percent of voters said Chief Justice John Roberts is doing an “excellent” or “good” job, while 16 percent gave him negative feedback.

Though confidence in the Court as currently composed is significant, strong bipartisan majorities endorsed a range of reform measures meant to increase transparency and accountability.

Eighty-six percent of voters agree that the justices should be subject to the Judicial Code of Conduct, from which they are currently exempt. The code provides ethical guidance for federal judges concerning personal conduct, outside activities, and the official execution of their duties.

Seventy-two percent believe the justices should place their financial holdings into a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest. Only three members of the Court — Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito — still own individual securities, though their stock portfolios appear to be shrinking.

Eighty-two percent of respondents think the justices ought to publicly explain the reason they recuse from certain cases, which is not current practice.

The survey reached 1,028 voters nationwide. The margin of error is 3.1 percent.

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