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April 29, 2021

ABA survey finds differences in support for pandemic requirements, trust in justice system

WASHINGTON, April 29, 2021 — Most Black and Hispanic people and young adults believe the U.S. justice system exhibits racial bias, but fewer white people and older people do, according to a new American Bar Association survey.  

The survey also found strong public support for legally permitting employers to require employees to wear masks at work and refusing service to customers who don’t follow mask requirements. But a majority does not support legally permitting employers to require their employees get COVID-19 vaccinations.

Those results are from the ABA 2021 Survey of Civic Literacy — the third annual survey conducted as part of Law Day, celebrated each year on May 1. The theme this year is “Advancing the Rule of Law Now.”

A nationally representative survey of 1,000 adults was conducted in Spanish and English by telephone March 11-17, 2021. The survey covered a variety of topics, including opinions on current events and how well Americans understand basic principles underlying U.S. democracy.

Today at noon ET, the ABA will sponsor an online program exploring the survey’s results on racial justice. The panel, moderated by CNN senior legal analyst Laura Coates, will include Roslyn Brock, NAACP chairman emeritus; Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter of Alexandria, Va.; and Juan R. Thomas, vice chair of the ABA Civil Rights & Social Justice Section. Registration is required and can be accessed here.

“Clearly, our nation must continue to work to eliminate racism and bias as we build a more perfect justice system,” ABA President Patricia Lee Refo said. “In a truly just society, everyone must believe that laws apply and are enforced equitably and fairly – to themselves and to others.  The lawyers of America are dedicated to that ideal.”

The survey posed questions in three areas: opinions on criminal justice, pandemic requirements and knowledge of basic government facts. Here are highlights:

Criminal Justice

·       Racial bias: A majority (52%) agreed with the statement “The justice system has racial biases built into its rules, procedures and practices.” A large majority of Black people (80%), Hispanic people (63%) and people age 18 to 34 (67%) agreed. But only 45% of white people and 34% of people age 65 and older agreed.

·       Rule of law: A majority (56%) agreed with the statement “The nation’s judicial system adheres to the rule of law, under which all individuals are treated equally in the eyes of the law.” Support was strongest among Hispanic people (61%), white people (60%) and people age 65 and older (73%). It was weakest among Black people (41%) and people age 18 to 34 (47%).


·       Defund the police: Overall, 50% said the first thing they think of when they hear the phrase “Defund the police” is “Redirect funding from the police department to essential social services.” That was strongest among Black people (63%) and weakest among white people, 19% of whom said they thought “Strip the police force of all funding.”

·       Prison: There was wide disagreement on why the United States imprisons a higher percentage of its population than many other developed nations. One-third (33%) attributed it to an increase in crime, 22% to prosecutors seeking the most serious charges allowed by law, 13% to an increase in prison capacity and 13% to an increase in the length of prison sentences.


·       Vaccines: A majority (53%) disagreed with the statement “Employers should be legally permitted to require that their employees get vaccinated for COVID-19.”

·       Masks for employees: A large majority (78%) agreed with the statement “Employers should be legally permitted to require that their employees wear face masks while working on-site with others.”

·       Masks for customers: A large majority (79%) agreed with the statement “Employers should be legally permitted to refuse service to a customer who is not following the establishment’s or locality’s face mask requirements.”

Civic Knowledge

·       Presidential line of succession: 72% knew that the Speaker of the House is second in line for the presidency. That’s up from 65% last year.


·       First Amendment: 63% knew that the right to vote is not part of the First Amendment. That’s up from 55% last year.

·       Obeying the law: 21% incorrectly thought that obeying the law is a responsibility only for U.S. citizens.

·       Freedom of speech: 19% incorrectly thought that freedom of speech is a right only for U.S. citizens.

·       Supreme Court: 58% correctly identified John Roberts as chief justice, while 11% thought it was Clarence Thomas and 8% believed it was Amy Coney Barrett.

To read the full survey, visit

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