A majority of Americans believe it should be up to President Barack Obama to nominate the next U.S. Supreme Court justice, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found on Thursday, with opinion divided along ideological party lines.
The death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia last week sparked an intense debate between Republicans and Democrats over whether Obama, a Democrat, should nominate Scalia’s replacement before he leaves office, or whether the seat should be left open until a new president takes office in January.
Concerned that any appointee Obama selects would tip the nine-justice court in liberals’ favor, Republicans in the U.S. Congress and on the presidential campaign trail have said the replacement should be chosen by the next president.
The White House has said Obama intends to do as the U.S. Constitution requires and “move promptly” to nominate a successor. The nominee must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
The poll showed that 54 percent of Americans believed Obama should make the nomination. The support overwhelmingly came from Democrats, with 81 percent of them saying they supported Obama nominating Scalia’s successor.
Among Republicans, only 27 percent said they either strongly or somewhat supported Obama making the pick.
Democrats and Republican also had different priorities when it comes to picking a Supreme Court nominee, according to the poll. A majority, or 67 percent, of Democrats said they wanted someone pragmatic and willing to compromise, with 53 percent of Republicans saying they wanted someone ideologically pure.
Despite its polarizing effect, the Supreme Court issue does not appear to be a priority issue for voters surveyed. More Americans think the executive and legislative branches of government wield greater influence than the judiciary, the poll showed, and fewer than 10 percent thought nominating justices to the high court was a presidential duty most relevant to them.
A third of those surveyed said they were not aware of Scalia’s death, which first made headlines on Saturday.
The poll of 1,108 adults, including 460 Democrats and 426 Republicans, was conducted Tuesday to Thursday. It had a credibility interval of about 5 percentage points.
(Reporting by Megan Cassella; Editing by Peter Cooney)