Public Opinion Survey Backs High Court Criminal-Law Rulings


The Supreme Court shifted to the right four years ago when conservative Justice Samuel Alito succeeded moderate Sandra Day O’Connor. If public opinion is the measure, the court has made the right call in most of its major decisions since then, says the Los Angeles Times. In criminal law areas, a strong majority favored a conservative ruling that upheld a homeowner’s right to have a gun, and a liberal ruling that put juvenile criminals in prison for life without hope for parole.

Columbia University law Prof. Nathaniel Persily, with Harvard political science Prof. Stephen Ansolabehere, surveyed the public’s view of decisions. Their Constitutional Attitudes Survey asked more than 1,600 respondents in 2009 and 2010 about issues that were before the high court. Overall, the court’s current and nuanced position on the death penalty and abortion is line with public opinion, the survey found. A majority supports the death penalty for murder, and the court has upheld capital punishment. The public also agreed with the rulings that ended the death penalty for those who are mentally retarded (in 2002) and for those under age 18 at the time of their crimes (in 2005).

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