Americans Divided on Bias in Justice System, Agree on Changes to Voting Process

More than half of Americans think the justice system has built-in racial biases, according to an annual survey by the American Bar Association, and the belief is especially common among younger adults and Black people.

The survey was conducted in March and asked 1,000 people, in English and Spanish, about their knowledge of U.S. laws and government and views on racial justice and voting. The results were released Friday in honor of Law Day, which is observed on May 1.

Three-quarters of Black respondents and nearly two-thirds of adults under 35 “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that the justice system has racial biases built into its rules, procedures and practices, according to the 2022 Survey of Civic Literacy. Only 48% of white respondents and 40% of adults aged 65 and over agreed that the system is biased. Respondents in last year’s survey were similarly divided based on age and race when it came to perception of bias in the justice system. Overall, the percentage of respondents who agreed the system is biased (52%) was unchanged from 2021.

A total of 86% of respondents correctly identified the meaning of the term “rule of law” — that no one is above the law — from a list of possible answers. Overall, 55% of respondents said the judicial system “adheres to the rule of law, under which all individuals are treated equally in the eyes of the law.” Younger adults and Black people were least likely to agree — at 46% and 29%, respectively — that the U.S. judicial system follows the rule of law.

Overwhelming majorities correctly answered basic questions about the U.S. Constitution and the roles of different branches of government. A total of 92% correctly identified the first three words of the Constitution (“We the People”) and 82% knew that the first 10 amendments are called the Bill of Rights. About 81% correctly answered that the U.S. Supreme Court’s duties include acting as the ultimate authority in interpreting the U.S. Constitution.

However, a much slimmer majority, 57%, correctly identified Chief Justice John Roberts as the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. About 60% correctly answered that the right to vote is not in the First Amendment, 54% knew that serving on a federal jury is a responsibility reserved for U.S. citizens and 53% knew that holding federal elected office is a right that is limited to citizens.

A majority — 59% of respondents — said they “always” vote and another 29% said they vote “most of the time.” According to David Paleologos, a pollster with DAPA Research, which conducted the survey for the ABA, the respondents who reported they vote most of the time are likely those who mostly care about presidential elections, while those who “always” vote probably vote in midterm and local elections as well.

The ABA report noted that while self-reported responses tend to overestimate voter turnout, actual turnout has set records in recent years. A record 66.8% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2020 presidential election, the ABA noted, and a record 53.4% of voters turned out for the 2018 midterm elections.

Respondents who said they vote regularly cited “civic responsibility” (68%) as the most common reason for voting, though over a third said “opposition to candidates” was one motivator in getting them to the polls. Among those who said they don’t vote regularly, the most common reason, cited by 42%, was that the candidates don’t motivate them to vote.

A total of 38% said their state has enacted laws making it easier to vote since the 2020 election, while 21% said their state has made it more difficult to vote. Respondents were broadly supportive of changes that would make it easier to vote. About two-thirds said they support a federal holiday for voting in federal elections and about 80% said they support expanding polling station hours or increasing the number of polling stations. Smaller majorities — between 55% and 59% — supported measures such as same-day voter registration, drive-through voting and increasing the use of ballot drop boxes. A total of 79% said they support requiring people to provide ID before voting.

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