Originally created 10/20/06

Polls good gauge for court races



ATLANTA - Two polls indicate the race for the Georgia Supreme Court represents a clear choice for lawyers but not for average voters.

One survey, conducted by The Polling Company Inc. of Washington on behalf of the Federalist Society, shows voters know little about the court or how the seven justices are selected, but there is a strong preference that they be elected. And there's little agreement on whether the current court engages in "judicial activism."

The other poll, by members of the State Bar of Georgia, reveals overwhelming support by lawyers, who say they know the candidates professionally, for Justice Carol Hunstein over challenger Mike Wiggins, a former Bush administration attorney.

Of the 4,500 bar members who answered the survey about Justice Hunstein, 85 percent called her "well qualified."

Those 2,500 who replied that they knew Mr. Wiggins enough to have an opinion weren't so kind. Seventy percent categorized him as "not qualified."

Georgia State University law professor Neil Kinkopf suggests voters should rely heavily on the bar survey because learning about judicial candidates can be tough when they typically don't raise enough money for long TV campaigns.

"People who know the candidates are giving you some idea of their qualities, especially in a case of this sort where people don't have real access to the Supreme Court," he said.

Mr. Wiggins' campaign manager, R.J. Briscione, sees the lawyers' survey as merely reflecting the philosophy of the attorneys rather than the qualifications of the candidates.

"Regardless, the only poll that matters is the one taken on election day, and that's where we're focused," he said.

Voters don't seem to care what the lawyers think anyway, according to the Federalist survey. Just 3 percent said it mattered. The factor cited most often, by 45 percent, was a "candidate who will interpret the law as it is written."

The Federalist questionnaire attempted to quantify opposition to judicial activism, a term nearly every judge rejects, which has different meanings depending on who is asked.