updated 5/21/2005 12:05:24 PM ET 2005-05-21T16:05:24

About four in five Americans want the Senate to thoroughly examine the president’s nominees to be federal judges — an attitude shared by a majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents questioned in a new poll.

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The rest say those nominees should get the benefit of the doubt and get approved by the Senate without much scrutiny, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Friday.

The widespread desire for an aggressive role by the Senate is one of the few aspects of this divisive issue that gets widespread agreement.

Respondents favored conservative over liberal judges in general, 47 percent to 39 percent. As for a possible Supreme Court nominee, 52 percent said they felt comfortable that President Bush would pick the right kind of justice, while 46 percent said they weren’t.

Senate battle
Senators are locked in a fierce fight over what is required to approve the more controversial federal court nominees. Republicans want them approved by a simple majority, while the Democrats want to require the 60 votes needed to override a blocking filibuster. The Democrats say a minority party needs the method to ensure checks on the majority.

Both sides point to the Senate’s constitutional duty to “advise and consent” on presidential nominations. Republicans say that means great deference is given to the president, while Democrats say it means those put forward should be closely scrutinized.

Senate Republicans have set the stage for a showdown Tuesday. Unless centrists seeking a compromise can strike a deal before then, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will force a test vote Tuesday on Texas Judge Priscilla Owen’s nomination to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. That could set in motion a series of events designed to make filibusters illegal.

“All this partisan bickering is just shutting the country down,” said Stephen Hart, a conservative-leaning political independent from Sun Prairie, Wis.

'Assertive role'
The poll found 78 percent believe the Senate should take an “assertive role” examining judicial nominees. Whether people prefer conservative judges or liberal judges, most want the Senate to closely examine judicial nominees.

“I’m probably more on the conservative side, but I think the Senate should closely look at each nominee,” said Heidi Densel, a Republican from Fort Wayne, Ind.

Democrat Carol Zebott of Duluth, Minn., said she wants the Senate to examine Bush’s judicial choices because “I just think he has been making a lot of bad decisions lately.”

A powerful force driving the current battle in the Senate over judges is the possibility of one or more openings on the Supreme Court during Bush’s second term.

Twenty-nine percent said they feel very comfortable that the president would pick the “right kind of justice,” while 32 percent said they are “not at all comfortable,” according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos.

Comfort level with Bush
In November, people were slightly more likely to say they were “very comfortable” than “not at all comfortable.”

Billy Monday, a political independent who lives near Hickory, N.C., said he trusts the president to make good appointments on the court because “the decisions he makes — pretty tough decisions — he meets head-on.”

But James Henderson, a Democratic professor from Titusville, Pa., said he’s not very comfortable that Bush will pick the right nominee for the Supreme Court or other federal courts. “I would prefer them to be liberal, but I’m not holding my breath.”

Forty-seven percent said they would prefer federal judges who are very or somewhat conservative, while 39 percent favored somewhat or very liberal jurists.

Just over half said federal judges make decisions mostly on their interpretation of the law, while 43 percent said judges rely mostly on their personal feelings and political views.

“I think they make decisions based on the law,” said Janice Tijerina, a semiretired Republican from Grand Rapids, Mich., “but with a little bit of their personal feelings.”

The AP-Ipsos poll of 1,028 adults was taken May 17-19 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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