U.S. Supreme Court

Justice Thomas Is More Conservative Than 97 Percent of the Population, Researchers Say


The U.S. Supreme Court “is quite representative of mass opinion,” though some justices are outside the mainstream, according to two professors who surveyed the public on recent decisions.

According to the professors, Justice Clarence Thomas is more conservative than 97 percent of the population and 93 percent of Republicans. Justice Antonin Scalia is more conservative than 89 percent of Americans and 77 percent of Republicans. The Washington Post reports on the results.

On the other side of the ideological spectrum, now-retired Justice John Paul Stevens was more liberal than 88 percent of Americans and 79 percent of Democrats. Justice Sonia Sotomayor is more liberal than about 85 percent of Americans, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is more liberal than 83 percent, the Post says.

The researchers, Stephen Jessee of the University of Texas and Neil Malhotra of Stanford University, rated justices for ideology based on decisions issued between October 2005 and June 2010, according to the unpublished study (PDF). They determined whether 1,500 Americans agreed with justices’ opinions through a 2010 survey that asked the respondents to cast their own votes in 10 recent high-profile Supreme Court cases.

The cases included: Citizens United v. FEC (holding that corporations have a First Amendment right to support political candidates with independent spending), District of Columbia v. Heller (finding that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own a gun), Baze v. Rees (upholding lethal injection), and Gonzales v. Carhart (upholding a ban on so-called partial-birth abortions).

The researchers tabulated the percentage of respondents who agreed with the decisions. About 43 percent agreed with Citizens United, about 72 percent agreed with Heller, 81.5 percent agreed with Baze, and 55.5 percent agreed with Carhart.

“We find that the median citizen is located quite close to the median justice, suggesting that, despite its intentional isolation from popular pressure, the court’s decisions are not out of line with public preferences,” Jessee and Malhotra wrote in their study.

Hat tip How Appealing.

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