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Poll: Americans don't want politicians constraining judges

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(CNN) -- Despite politicians' complaints about judges having too much power, two-thirds of Americans do not believe elected officials should have more control over federal judges, according to a new CNN poll released Saturday.

Sixty-seven percent of 1,013 people surveyed by Opinion Research Corp. on behalf of CNN said federal judges -- and the decisions they make -- should not be subject to more control.

Only 30 percent said they should. (See the poll results)

Both a current and former Supreme Court justice told CNN they are not unaware of the criticism aimed at them, but they said such criticism is an integral part of life in a democracy.

"As I went through the last few years of service here at the court, I saw increasing indicator of unhappiness with judges," said retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

But that unhappiness is a consequence of an independent judiciary, said Justice Stephen Breyer.

"It comes from the necessity that someone have the last word. And since for 200 years, people have thought in this country that the best guarantee that minorities will not be oppressed, that the Constitution will be lived up to, is to give the very last word to a group of judges who are independent," he said.

"Not because they are wiser -- they make mistakes -- but because, by giving them the last word, there is a better guarantee of that neutrality, insulated from politics, that can help those whom the Constitution wanted to help, that minority that might be oppressed."

Forty-one percent of poll respondents said federal judges were "about right" in their decisions. Thirty-four percent said they are too liberal, and 20 percent said they are too conservative. The sampling error for the poll questions was 3 percentage points.

"The fact is, once I'm appointed, I'm not a judge for one group or another group," Breyer told CNN. "And when I write a dissent or when I write a majority [opinion], the people that disagree with me the most, I'm their justice, too. I have to remember that. I can't write in a way that will please [everybody]. I know I can't. It's a big country."

But, Breyer said, America's strength comes in part because of our ability to follow even the most hotly contested rulings.

"We've learned as a nation to follow decisions even when we think they're wrong," he said. "And in a country of 300 million people and ... 900 million points of view, that is a national treasure."


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Justice Stephen Breyer and retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor say criticism is part of a democracy.

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