Two in three Americans support Supreme Court rules on when Justices can take part in cases

Linley SandersData Journalist
April 11, 2022, 1:43 PM GMT+0

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas received criticism last week after reports of texts exchanged between his wife Ginni Thomas and then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. The U.S. House of Representatives’ January 6 Committee requested information that included these text messages, and the request eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, where Clarence Thomas participated in the case. Eight Justices ruled that the material should be released; Thomas was the only one who disagreed.

The latest Economist/YouGov poll indicates that there is a lot of discomfort about Justices participating in cases that affect themselves or their families. By 47% to 25%, Americans say it is not possible for a Supreme Court Justice to fairly judge a case when they or their families could be impacted by the outcome. More than a quarter (28%) are uncertain.

Republicans are split (34% to 35%) on whether this impartiality is possible, whereas Democrats are more certain that it is not (22% to 57%).

By 48% to 24%, Americans say Thomas should not have participated in deciding the case. Republicans are split on whether he should have (34% say he should have, 34% say he should not have, and 32% are uncertain).

By 46% to 27%, Americans say Thomas should not participate in deciding any future cases about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. In this instance, Republicans are more likely to say that he should participate than that he shouldn’t (49% to 28%). Americans also narrowly say that Thomas should not participate in any cases at all involving the 2020 election. Republicans are divided about Thomas’s participation in the Jan. 6 case, but they believe he should take part in future cases about events about that day, as well as in future cases about the 2020 election.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans (63%) say that there should be rules about when Supreme Court Justices can take part in the court’s deliberation, with support slightly higher when people are informed that lower courts have such guidelines (68%).

Republicans are also closely divided on whether there should be rules in place governing when Supreme Court Justices should recuse themselves from a case – akin to rules of conduct that apply to lower-court judges. Two-thirds overall support such rules in the high court, and whether or not people are told about the existence of lower-court rules makes little difference in opinion among Democrats and Republicans — though Independents are 9 percentage points more likely to support Supreme Court rules when told about other courts’ rules.

— Taylor Orth and Carl Bialik contributed to this article

This poll was conducted on April 2 - 5, 2022, among 1,500 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this Economist/YouGov poll

Image: Getty