Public disagrees with Sotomayor in poll on affirmative action case

McClatchy NewspapersJune 3, 2009 

WASHINGTON — A strong majority of the American people oppose the position that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor took on an affirmative action case that will figure prominently in her Senate confirmation hearings, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.

In the case, Ricci v. DeStefano, Sotomayor sided with the city of New Haven, Conn., which threw out the results of a test used to promote firefighters when no blacks achieved a score high enough to merit promotion.

Americans oppose that decision strongly; 71 percent favor promoting the white firefighters, plus one Hispanic, who scored well on the test, and only 19 percent side with the city — and Sotomayor — in abandoning the test and awarding no promotions.

In addition, a strong public majority — 55 to 36 percent — favors abolishing affirmative action entirely, the poll found.

The survey adds fuel to Republican plans to make Sotomayor's ruling on the case a political issue during her Senate confirmation hearings.

"The idea of giving preferences to meet some kind of criteria is just not popular," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "There's a solid minority that thinks it's a good idea, then a majority that thinks it's not."

The institute surveyed 3,097 registered voters by phone from May 26 to June 1. The poll's findings reflect the public's views as a whole, with a statistical error margin of plus or minus 1.8 percentage points.

A majority of every demographic group — Republicans, Democrats, Independents, men, women, whites, blacks, Hispanics — favored the promotion of the firefighters who passed the test. The strongest support for Sotomayor's decision came from African-Americans. However, a majority, 53 percent, disagreed with it, while 33 percent agreed and 14 percent had no opinion.

Despite the tide of public disagreement with her New Haven ruling, that doesn't necessarily mean that the public opposes Sotomayor's nomination. Asked if her vote on that question makes it more or less likely that they'd support her nomination, 59 percent said it makes no difference, while 28 percent said it makes them less likely to support her, 7 percent said more likely, and 6 percent had no opinion.

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Quinnipiac poll results

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