Majority of voters believe federal judges inject politics into rulings: poll

Two-thirds of registered voters in the United States believe that federal judges’ legal rulings have become increasingly tainted by political bias, according to a new Harvard CAPS/Harris poll released Monday.

The poll results, shared exclusively with The Hill, suggest that Americans have become increasingly convinced that the country’s judges act less as independent jurists than political players, willing to bend their rulings to suit their own political beliefs.

Sixty-six percent of respondents said that the decisions put forth by federal judges were “influenced by politics” and that their rulings are based “more and more on their political views,” according to the Harvard/Harris poll.


Another 34 percent of respondents reported a belief that federal judges generally act independently and issue rulings based on the law as written, the poll found.

At the same time, 56 percent of respondents said they believe that the federal judiciary is comprised mostly of judges appointed by either President TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham: America must 'accept the pain that comes in standing up to China' Weld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump New data challenges Trump's economic narrative MORE or former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaNew data challenges Trump's economic narrative Trump preps conspiracy theory to explain faltering economy The ideological divide on vaping has a clear winner: Smokers MORE that make decisions “on the basis of their political views as much as the law.”

Conversely, 44 percent of respondents said they believe the U.S. has a “strong and independent judiciary,” according to the survey.

The Harvard CAPS/Harris online poll surveyed a total of 1,407 registered voters.

Seven-hundred-and-five were asked whether they “think federal judges today are mostly independent and ruling just on the basis of the law or are they influenced by politics and ruling more and more on their political views.”

Another 702 were asked whether “today in America we have a strong and independent judiciary or do we have Trump and Obama judges who make decision on the basis of their political views as much as the law.”

Mark Penn, the co-director of the Harvard CAPS/Harris poll, said that the poll results suggest that the federal judiciary “has a serious and growing problem of public perception.”

“The public only wishes that [Chief Justice John] Roberts has been right – they believe that judges are too political today and that there are, in fact, Trump judges and Obama judges,” Penn said, referring to remarks made last month by Roberts, in which he asserted that the judiciary remained “independent.”

The survey came on the heels of a feud between Trump and Roberts that erupted last month after the president criticized an Obama-appointed judge who blocked the Trump administration from refusing asylum to migrants who cross into the U.S. without authorization.

Roberts took the unusual step of rebuking the president’s comments, saying that the judiciary is made up of an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”

More Democrats than Republicans polled said that federal judges’ rulings were tinged with political bias – 69 percent to 58 percent, according to the Harvard CAPS/Harris poll.

But on the question of whether the U.S. has a “strong and independent judiciary,” slightly more Democrats than Republicans said that it did – 46 percent to 41 percent, the survey found.

The Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll online survey was conducted Nov. 27-28. It has a margin of sampling error between 3.5 percent and 4 percent.

The Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll is a collaboration of the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University and The Harris Poll. The Hill will be working with Harvard/Harris Poll throughout 2018.

Full poll results will be posted online later this week. The Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll survey is an online sample drawn from the Harris Panel and weighted to reflect known demographics. As a representative online sample, it does not report a probability confidence interval.