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Thursday, February 23, 2006 

Justice Who?

I once held the idealistic hope that my fellow citizens knew something about the Supreme Court. I hoped that Joe Six-pack could name two (maybe three) of the sitting justices on the Court. Rather extensive but wholly anecdotal evidence (consisting of me polling friends, colleagues, and co-workers) has crushed that hope. People just don't know who the justices are. Well, it looks like there is some non-anecdotal evidence to back this up. Here are the numbers from three studies posted on the ELS blog that asks people to name the nine justices.

I'm not surprised that O'Connor is the most well known. Being the first female justice is enough to get your name stuck in the heads of many people. Thomas at number two isn't shocking either. His confirmation hearings are seared into the memories of many people. Even I remember my mom watching the hearings on TV, and I was nine years old at the time. The most recent survey puts Roberts in third. I'm sure that his appointment was so recent and the fact that it's now the Roberts Court has something to do with that. I'm curious where Alito would rank. I'm also curious if his numbers will decline over time.

Part of me thinks that it's bad that people have no idea who is on the Court. I'm shocked that the justices aren't out in public more often, giving speeches and making appearances. But maybe they like being anonymous. On of the panelists at the conference, David G. Leitch (who isn't a professor yet I keep calling the panel that he was on "the professors' panel"...), mentioned that Chief Justice Rehnquist was once stopped outside of the Supreme Court building by a group of Yale law students. They asked him for directions. They didn't even know who he was. I guess there is something nice about being in such a position of power but maintaining your anonymity.

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