Public Attitudes Toward Proposed Changes to the Supreme Court

A new study on the Supreme Court, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has been getting a fair amount of attention for its findings on the relationship over time between public opinion on major issues before the Court and the Court’s decisions. I wanted to highlight one aspect of the study that has not received any attention, as far as I’m aware, which is the results of the authors’ 2021 survey of attitudes toward proposed changes in the structure of the Court:

Attitudes toward Proposed Changes the Court. Last, we explore how the growing ideological divergence between the public and the court maps onto attitudes on proposed institutional changes to the Supreme Court, a topic that has risen in salience since the 2016 US presidential election. We included two questions on the 2021 survey on 1) support for term limits for justices and 2) support for expanding the number of justices on the court.

Court expansion is not popular, with just under one-third of respondents giving a supportive response. Term limits, on the other hand, are fairly popular, with a slight majority of respondents supporting the proposal. (For both of these questions, slightly over a quarter of respondents said they neither agree nor disagree with the proposal, with the remainder giving an unsupportive response.) Democrats are more supportive of both measures than are Republicans, but the partisan difference in support is much larger for expanding the size of the court (51 and 16%) than for term limits (67 and 43%), and this difference is statistically significant (P < 0.001).

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