Anti-filibuster group's leader touted faulty, partisan poll on Scarborough Country
Research ››› ››› JEREMY CLUCHEY
Wendy E. Long, counsel of the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network (JCN), cited misleading poll results in support of Republican calls to forbid filibusters in the Senate judicial confirmation process through a rule change known as the "nuclear option." In fact, the poll Long cited, conducted by a Republican pollster with a history of crafting misleading questions that generate responses favorable to conservative policy positions, runs contrary to other recent polls by nonpartisan and bipartisan pollsters.
JCN is a conservative advocacy group that "works to ensure that the confirmation process for all judicial nominees is fair and that every [judicial] nominee sent to the full Senate receives an up or down vote." During her appearance on the April 14 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country, Long hailed California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown (nominated to the D.C. Circuit) and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen (nominated to the 5th Circuit), whom Democrats are blocking, as "outstanding judges" and asserted that "82 percent of the American people want the Senate to vote on these candidates."
Long was apparently referring to a poll conducted March 6-9 for JCN by Republican pollster Ayres, McHenry & Associates. The poll asked respondents whether they agreed with the following statement: "If a nominee for any federal judgeship is well-qualified, he or she deserves an up or down vote on the floor of the Senate [underline in original]." But this question is misleading, offering an affirmative argument in favor of "up or down" votes for judicial nominees without an accompanying argument offered in opposition.
The question also posits a "well-qualified nominee," putting a heavy thumb on the scale, when in fact Democrats have articulated substantive reasons for asserting that neither Owen, Brown, nor any of the other judges they have blocked are "well-qualified."
In addition, several of the nominees whom Democrats have blocked did not receive "Well Qualified" ratings from the American Bar Association. Brown herself received the lowest possible "passing" rating from the ABA and was twice rated "Unqualified" by the California judicial evaluation committee, which wrote that she was "prone to inserting conservative personal views into her appellate opinions," according to an April 26, 1996, Los Angeles Times report.
The Ayres poll appears not to address the issue of the use of the filibuster for judicial nominations -- the very issue under debate. But the firm's website posts only "highlights" of the poll results, even though it posts the entire questionnaires for the two other polls for 2005 (here and here) currently available on the site. In contrast, recent polling on the specific filibuster issue by nonpartisan and bipartisan pollsters indicates that a majority of the public opposes the Republican threat to eliminate the filibuster for judicial nominations. Asked if they thought the Senate should "maintain the filibuster rule or eliminate the filibuster for judicial nominations," 50 percent favored maintaining the filibuster, while 40 percent disagreed, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted March 31-April 3 by Democrat pollster Peter Hart and Republican pollster Bill McInturff [p. 6]. And a Newsweek poll conducted March 17-18 by nonpartisan pollster Princeton Survey Research Associates found similar results: "Neutering the filibuster would be unpopular with Americans, nearly six in ten (57 percent) of whom would disapprove. Even one-third (33 percent) of Republicans say they would object to such a move."
As Media Matters has noted (here and here), Ayres, McHenry & Associates has previously posed misleading and loaded questions to respondents, and conservative advocacy organizations frequently tout the firm's polls. The firm's list of "Federal Political Clients" includes Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), former senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC), the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the Republican National Committee.