Familiarity Breeds and Breeds ...

Familiarity Breeds and Breeds ...

Familiarity Breeds and Breeds ...

Slate's blog on legal issues.
May 22 2008 5:39 PM

Familiarity Breeds and Breeds ...

I have a slightly different hypothesis for Eric and the new Rasmussen poll . Eric is right to point to the odd disjunction between favorable institutional ratings and the lame reviews for individual justices. But the poll also suggests something fairly radical for those of us—um, let’s call them "me"—who’ve been urging the justices toward greater openness and transparency. Because a look at the individual rankings by justice suggests that the justices who have attempted to use the media to humanize and personalize the court have somehow achieved precisely the opposite effect. The justices with the highest unfavorable ratings here are the ones who have most avidly courted the public. Whereas the justices who have kept on keeping on under the radar remain unknown, but un-hated.

So, for instance, whose individual ratings are most unfavorable? The best known justice, Clarence Thomas, was the least-liked. Some 38 percent of respondents viewed him favorably, and 50 percent rated him unfavorably. Maybe it’s a coincidence that he was also the recipient of the most personal publicity this year, following a searing autobiography and a round of television appearances. Who has the next highest unfavorables? Antonin Scalia at 40 percent. Who’s been all over the media like Cheez Whiz on toast? Antonin Scalia. I don’t think this means Americans dislike originalists, by the way. I think it may mean, as Eric suggests, that we may prefer our jurists to be oracular, silent, and holed up in New Hampshire.

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate and hosts the podcast Amicus.