Sotomayor Supported; Public Split On Whether Issues Should Dominate

Judge Sonia Sotomayor enjoys the public's support, a CNN/Opinion Research poll reported this morning; 47 percent of the 1,026 respondents said she should be confirmed, 40 said she shouldn't, and 13 percent were unsure.

But, other than Harriet Miers, previous nominees were held higher in the public's esteem. Yes/no splits on the same question were 60/26 for John Roberts, 54/30 for Samuel Alito, 53/14 for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 52/17 for Clarence Thomas, according to previous numbers included in the CNN poll.

Buried in the findings, however, is an interesting nugget on how Americans think senators should base their votes--namely, the public is split on whether issues like abortion or gun control should determine how senators vote.

Though partisan concerns over court picks usually focus on such issues, judges and politicians alike are typically reluctant to approach nominations from that angle. Judges commonly say they won't flatly state a preference on abortion, for instance, given that each case is unique and they don't want to state, ahead of time, how they'd rule. Hence the question, "Do you think the Roe v. Wade decision was a good one?"

Jurisprudence is supposed to be independent of politics and policy; it's a fair mind and even temperament, not particular stances, that is supposed to be sought in nominees.

The criticism of Sonia Sotomayor has stayed away from issues, generally: Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh blasted her for the "wise Latina" quote, and other critics have brought up her statement, at a Duke University panel discussion, that the appeals court is "where policy is made"--questioning her ethics and judicial philosophy and charging racism, but not her stance on constitutional interpretations.

But according to CNN, 47 percent think senators would be justified "in voting against her if they disagree with her stance on current issues such as abortion or gun control," supposing "the upcoming confirmation hearings indicate that Sonia Sotomayor is qualified and has no ethical problems." 49 percent say they wouldn't be justified in doing so, and 5 percent say they have no opinion.

That marks a shift from public sentiment in 2005, when 54 percent said senators would be unjustified in letting issues determine their votes, compared to 40 who said such voting would be justified, and 6 percent who had no opinion.

So, ironically, during a nomination process that has had relatively little to do with abortion and gun control, the public finds itself more comfortable with such issues determining Sonia Sotomayor's fate.