Most Americans support Kagan's nomination to Supreme Court, poll finds

By Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 11, 2010; 6:55 AM

Nearly six in 10 Americans say the Senate should vote to confirm U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court, but most also want her to answer questions about how she would have decided past cases and to reveal her stand on legal abortion.

At 58 percent in the new Washington Post-ABC News poll, public support for Kagan's confirmation is on par with that for now-Justice Sonia Sotomayor when she was tapped last year as President Obama's first nominee for the court. About a quarter, 24 percent, oppose Kagan; 18 percent express no opinion.

Democrats overwhelmingly back the president's pick, who would become the third woman serving on the nine-justice court, as do independents, by about a 2 to 1 ratio. More than a third of Republicans also support Kagan's confirmation, putting her cross-party support exactly where Sotomayor's was before her hearings started.

Last June, 36 percent of Republicans backed Sotomayor, with 43 percent opposed, precisely where Kagan's Republican numbers are now. But in a poll taken a month later, as the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Sotomayor were wrapping up, GOP opposition to her confirmation spiked to 57 percent.

This year, Republican lawmakers are sure to ask Kagan's opinions about past cases and will point to Kagan's published support for a more open, lively exchange on constitutional issues. Nominees are generally reluctant to engage on this score, amounting to a process Kagan deemed a "vapid and hollow charade."

In a 1995 book review, Kagan wrote about "the essential rightness -- the legitimacy and the desirability -- of exploring a Supreme Court nominee's set of constitutional views and commitments," and two-thirds of Americans say she should answer questions about how she would have ruled on past court cases. Majorities, though slimmer ones, said the same of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. before his turn on the Senate stage.

Large majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents say Kagan should answer such questions, but the president's opponents are more eager to hear the details than are his supporters. Republicans are more apt than Democrats to want Kagan to give her opinions on case law, just as Democrats were significantly more likely than Republicans to want Roberts -- a George W. Bush nominee -- to do so in 2005. A majority of Republicans said Roberts should not answer such questions.

The desire to have the other side's nominee go on the record is particularly true when it comes to abortion. Fully 66 percent of Republicans want Kagan to publicly state her position on the issue, compared with 46 percent of Democrats. It was reversed in July 2005 before Roberts' hearing. At that time, 78 percent of Democrats wanted Roberts to go on record about the matter; only 46 percent of Republicans agreed.

The poll was conducted June 3 to 6 among a random sample of 1,004 adults contacted by conventional and cellular telephone. The results from the full poll have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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