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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bene Qui Latuit, Bene Vixit

According to this story, a poll has been conducted which shows that nearly two thirds of the American public cannot name a single Supreme Court justice.  Apparently the Chief Justice was the most commonly known, getting a whopping 20% name recognition.  The identity of the least well-known Justice was, appropriately enough, kept anonymous.  That person, whomever he or she may be, is truly blessed.

UPDATE: Following a link to the poll brings one the news that Justice Breyer was known by only 3% of the respondents.  That must give him extra reason to oppose televising the Court's proceedings.  Sometimes inactive liberty really is for the best.

Posted by Marc DeGirolami on August 22, 2012 at 02:24 PM | Permalink

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The most anonymous was Breyer. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/two-thirds-of-americans-cant-name-any-us-supreme-court-justices-says-new-findlawcom-survey-166730886.html

Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2012 2:44:01 PM

One really striking detail about the different justices' levels of name recognition in that survey (aside from that all of them are low) is that Justice Kennedy comes in 6th. In law world, most of us assume he is the most important justice, the one who basically decides the majority of high-profile 5-4 splits (the Obamacare decision being a big recent exception to the rule). But out there in the world, his name recognition is half that of Roberts. (Unless maybe this is a result of the Obamacare decision -- in which case that decision was quite successful in getting the Chief's name into people's heads...)

Here are the #'s copied from the survey at the link:

John Roberts – 20%
Antonin Scalia – 16%
Clarence Thomas – 16%
Ruth Bader Ginsburg – 13%
Sonia Sotomayor – 13%
Anthony Kennedy – 10%
Samuel Alito – 5%
Elena Kagan – 4%
Stephen Breyer – 3%

Posted by: Joey | Aug 22, 2012 3:58:46 PM

Seems to me that it might be fun to run a regression of those figures against things like number of majority opinions authored, number of dissents, years on court, and maybe some other variables (length of confirmation hearing? number of public speaking events per year? political leanings? number of appearances of name in news stories over the last year? etc.). Maybe its possible to make some sense of why some judges are better known than others.

Might also be fun to rerun the poll with lawyers as the respondents. It would be interesting if you got a different ordering rather than just higher numbers. For examples, Joey suggests that Kennedy might be higher among lawyers.

Posted by: Stuart | Aug 22, 2012 5:20:45 PM

The Kennedy number is surprising because it's not only lawyers who believe Kennedy is the most important justice. All MSM accounts of the Court talk about Kennedy being the key vote in just about every case.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Aug 22, 2012 8:00:58 PM

Here's a link to a "just for fun" post of mine on the topic of citizen knowledge of SCOTUS that includes a link to an interesting paper that suggest that the method of asking is important.

http://lawandcourts.com/2007/12/18/can-you-name-the-scotus-justices-charles-barkley-nails-it/

Posted by: Jeff Yates | Aug 23, 2012 9:33:44 AM

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