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Survey gauges belief in justice fairness, COVID-19 mandates

April 30, 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 the 2021 ABA Survey of Civic Literacy.

Video of an April 29 webinar to present the 2021 Survey of  Civic Literacy

The survey also found strong public support for allowing 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 believe employers should be legally permitted to require their employees to get COVID-19 vaccinations.

The survey of 1,000 adults was conducted March 11-17, 2021, as part of Law Day, which is celebrated every year on May 1. It posed questions in three areas: opinions on criminal justice and pandemic requirements and basic civic knowledge.

“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.”

Among the highlights:

  • Racial justice: 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 aged 18 to 34 (67%) agreed. But only 45% of white people and 34% of people 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 those 65 and older (73%). It was weakest among Black people (41%) and people age 18 to 34 (47%).
  • Pandemic: A majority (53%) disagreed with the statement “Employers should be legally permitted to require that their employees get vaccinated for COVID-19.” But large majorities agreed with the statements “Employers should be legally permitted to require that their employees wear face masks while working on-site with others” (78%) and “Employers should be legally permitted to refuse service to a customer who is not following the establishment’s or locality’s face mask requirements.” (79%)
  • Civic knowledge: 72% knew that the Speaker of the House is second in line for the presidency, up from 65% last year, and 19% incorrectly thought that freedom of speech is a right only for U.S. citizens. But 58% correctly identified John Roberts as U.S. chief justice, although 11% thought it was Clarence Thomas and 8% believed it was Amy Coney Barrett.

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