The Federalist Society

Statewide Survey of Pennsylvania Voters

State Courts Project

October 6, 2009

Kellyanne Conway

Below is a summary of the report.  Click the PDF link at the bottom of the page or at the top right hand corner of the page to read the full report.

TO:  Interested Parties

FROM: Kellyanne Conway, President & CEO
  the polling company™, inc./WomanTrend

DATE:  October 6, 2009

RE:  Statewide Survey of Pennsylvania Voters


On behalf of The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy, the polling companyTM, inc./WomanTrend conducted a statewide survey of 500 Pennsylvania residents registered to vote. Voters were queried on their levels of knowledge, opinions, expectations, and feelings of judicial philosophy, judicial selection, the upcoming November election for State Supreme Court, and rulings of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The survey has an overall margin of error of ±4.4%. Margins of error for subgroups are higher. An explanation of methodology follows this analysis.

Voters Affirm: There’s No Place in the Courtroom for Judges’ Individual Ideas and Opinions, Just Their Interpretations of the Law
In response to a question that presented two opposing positions revealed that 77% of Pennsylvania voters preferred that judges “interpret and apply the law as it is written and not take into account their own viewpoints and experiences.” Conversely, just one-in-five (20%) would rather judges “go beyond interpreting and applying the law and take into account their own viewpoints and experiences.” Intensity favored estraint: respondents were six times more likely to agree strongly that judges should check their own views at the courtroom doors as they were to agree strongly that they should incorporate their personal opinions into rulings (57% vs. 9%).

Pennsylvanians Prefer Rule of Law – Not Personal Whims – Dictate and Influence Justices’ Decisions
A series of five questions centering on the principles of “judicial activism” and “judicial restraint” were presented to respondents. Voters were first asked to assess their familiarity with either of the two terms. Majorities admitted they were “not too familiar” or “not at all familiar” with either “judicial activism” (69%) or “judicial restraint” (71%).

Voters Say Justices “Guilty” of Incorporating Personal Viewpoints
When asked to opine whether or not Justices who currently sit on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania “take into account their personal viewpoints and experiences in rulings”, nearly three-in-five (57%) felt confident to assert that Justices do, in fact, insert their own opinions while 21% felt the opposite. Slightly more than one-in-five (22%) 22% confessed they did not have enough knowledge to pass judgment on the inclusion of personal viewpoints.

Voters Say Experience on the Bench – Especially When It’s Filled With Examples of Judicial Restraint – Most Critical at the Ballot Box
When asked to select one of eight possible factors that could influence their votes for State Supreme Court Justice, nearly one-third (32%) of Pennsylvania voters said that past experience as a judge will be most important when deciding for whom they will vote in November. One-in-four (25%) indicated that they will look to the candidates’ records of interpreting the law as it is written in past rulings. In contrast, 5% said they will hone in on candidates’ annals of incorporating personal viewpoints into their decisions.

Pennsylvanians Sour on State Supreme Court
When prompted to rate the job the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is doing, most respondents offered the court a polite “OK.” Less than 1% of respondents said the Court deserves a grade of “excellent” while 22% assessed it with a “good.” Nearly one-half (45%) of voters graded the State Supreme Court negatively: more than two thirds (36%) felt that the court is doing a “fair” job while nearly one “poor” grade. One-third felt that they lacked such a judgment.

“We the People” Should be Persuasive in Selecting Justices Pennsylvania Voters Say…
When asked who should have the greatest input on who is selected to serve as a Justice on the Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, more than seven-in-ten (72%) of voters said that they themselves Pennsylvania voters – should have the strongest influence. One-in-ten (10%) favored handing responsibility to the Pennsylvania General Assembly. An even smaller 8% felt that the Governor of Pennsylvania ought to have the greatest input while, in last place, just 6% opted to give Pennsylvania lawyers the most power in choosing which candidates are elected to serve as Justices on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court.

…So Don’t Tinker With the Process
In a separate question, approval of the current method of selection (partisan elections) outpaced disapproval by a margin of more than 2-to-1 (67% vs. 28%). Furthermore, strong supporters of partisan elections outnumbered strong opponents by a similar margin (36% vs. 15%).

Justice Who?
The Pennsylvania electorate admitted to possess a paucity of knowledge about the goings on with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Nearly two-in-five (38%) reported that they were “not at all familiar” with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and its rulings and one-third (33%) said they were only “just a little bit familiar,” yielding more than seven-in-ten (71%) participants confessing unfamiliarity with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Voters Recognize Gravity of Lawsuit Abuse in the Keystone State
Voters are much more certain in their opinions toward a topic that touches and concerns the judiciary: lawsuit abuse. More than four-in-five (82%) Pennsylvania respondents deemed “lawsuit abuse” – which was described as the filing of frivolous lawsuits by individuals or groups – as serious; 51% considered it “very serious.” Twelve percent were tepid toward the situation, considering it to be “just a little bit serious” (9%) or “not at all serious” (3%).

Voters Applaud State Supreme Court for Ruling on Ortiz v. Commonwealth
Fifty-six percent of Pennsylvanians agreed -- including 39% strongly -- with the 13-year-old decision from the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania that held only the state legislature has the authority to pass gun laws. Thirty-eight percent disagreed with the judgment.

Pennsylvanians Overwhelmingly Want The Opportunity to Vote on Same-Sex Marriage Amendment…
When informed that 30 states in the nation have amendments defining marriage and explained the process of changing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Constitution to allow for an amendment on marriage, 78% of respondents favored giving voters the opportunity to cast ballots on the issue, 16% opposed the idea. Support for allowing the issue of marriage to come to the ballot crossed gender, age, racial, regional, political, and ideological lines. The only demographic group more likely than the average to oppose a ballot measure was selfidentified Democrats (19%); still, three-quarters (76%) of the cohort backed putting marriage to the people.

…And Want Their Declared Intentions to “Stick”
If voters were to pass an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution on marriage, more than two-in-three voters would deem it “inappropriate” for the seven Justices to overturn the hundreds of thousands of votes cast on the amendment.

 

Related Links

Key Issues for Pennsylvanians: What is at Stake with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Statewide Survey of Pennsylvania Voters  


The Federalist Society