WASHINGTON (CNN) — As the Supreme Court gets ready to issue opinions on some high profile and contentious cases, a new national poll indicates Americans are split on whether the high court is doing a good job.
According to a CNN/ORC International survey released Thursday morning, 48% of the public say they approve of the job the Supreme Court's doing, with an equal amount saying they disapprove.
There is, however, an ideological divide. Fifty-three percent of liberals and 58% of moderates, but only 37% of conservatives, say that they approve of the court.
"That's probably a reaction to last year's decision on Barack Obama's health care law," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
In a closely watched ruling, the court upheld the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, last June.
"Before that ruling, most conservatives supported the Supreme Court, compared to only 44% of liberals. Now, most liberals approve of the court, with most conservatives saying they disapprove," adds Holland.
All that may change over the next week as the Supreme Court releases opinions on affirmative action, same-sex marriage, and the Voting Rights Act, cases that are sure to generate fresh controversy.
The case involving affirmative action is Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin. Abigail Fisher individually sued the flagship state university after her college application was rejected in 2008 when she was a high school senior in Sugar Land, Texas. Fisher claims she was turned away in part because she is white, despite being more qualified than some minority applicants. The school defends its policy of considering race as one of many factors, such as test scores, community service, leadership and work experience, to ensure a diverse campus.
According to the poll, nearly seven in ten disapprove of affirmative action admissions programs at colleges and law schools that give racial preferences to minority applicants, with 29% saying they disagree.
There's an obvious partisan divide, with 49% of Democrats, 24% of independents, and just 14% of Republicans approving of such affirmative action programs. And there's a racial gap, with 51% of non-white respondents but just 19% of white respondents saying they approve of giving preferences to minority applicants.
Also in front of the Supreme Court is the Voting Rights Act, which was passed in 1965 to prevent some state and local governments from using rules and procedures which prevented many black Americans from voting. The key enforcement provision of the measure was reauthorized in 2006 for another 25 years, with all or parts of 16 states covered under the "pre-clearance" provision.
A county in Alabama subsequently filed suit, saying the federal monitoring of their election procedures was overly burdensome and unwarranted. The case before the high court is called Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder.
The survey indicates the public is evenly divided over whether the Voting Rights Act is still necessary, with 48% saying yes and 50% saying no. There's a slight racial gap and a larger partisan divide.
There are two same-sex marriage cases in front of the Supreme Court.
At issue in Hollingsworth v. Perry is whether the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment guarantee of "equal protection" prevents states from defining marriage as being only between one man and one woman. The case involves California's Proposition 8, a statewide ballot measure that banned same-sex marriages in the Golden State, which California's Supreme Court had previously ruled were legal.
According to the poll, 55% of Americans support same-sex marriage, with 44% opposed. The 55% support is up 11 percentage points from 2008.
"In the 1970s, when polls first tackled this touchy topic, a majority of Americans believed that homosexual relationships between consenting adults were morally wrong, a belief that persisted into the 1990s and the first few years of the 21st century," says Holland. "But three years ago, the number who felt that homosexual relationships were morally wrong began to drop below 50%, and currently 54% of the public says that homosexual relationships are not a moral issue. Not surprisingly, that shift in opinion coincided with a growth in support for same-sex marriage."
The other case is Windsor v. U.S.. At issue is whether the federal Defense of Marriage Act violates equal protection guarantees in the Fifth Amendment's due process clause as applied to same-sex couples legally married under the laws of their states.
The case involves Edith "Edie" Windsor, who was forced to assume an estate tax bill much larger than those other married couples would have to pay. Because her partner was a woman, the federal government did not recognize the same-sex marriage legally, even though their home state of New York did. The law known as DOMA defines marriage for federal purposes as a union between a man and woman only.
The legal issue is whether the federal government can deny tax, health and pension benefits to same-sex couples in states where they can legally marry.
According to the poll, 60% say the federal government should recognize same-sex marriages performed in states that allow them, with 39% saying they disagree.
The poll was conducted for CNN by ORC International June 11-13, with 1,014 adults nationwide questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.
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