Supreme Sleight of Hand

Slate's blog on legal issues.
May 22 2008 12:56 PM

Supreme Sleight of Hand

The Rasmussen poll's (un)favorability ratings for individual Supreme Court justices surely intrigue. But how can they be squared with repeated polls indicating Americans don't even know the names of the nine folks on the court?

Consider FindLaw's December 2005 "Supreme Court Awareness Survey," which found that " only 43 percent of American adults can name at least one justice who is currently serving on the nation's highest court," and that fully 57 percent of Americans "can't name any current U.S. Supreme Court justices ."


Most-named in that polling of 1,000 Americans was the now-retired Sandra Day O'Connor; at 27 percent, she placed six points ahead of the second-place justice, Clarence Thomas. Notwithstanding that the confirmation hearings of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. had taken place just a couple of months earlier, he placed a distant third, at 16 percent. The rest were named as follows: Antonin Scalia, 13 percent; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 12 percent; Anthony M. Kennedy, 7 percent; David H. Souter, 5 percent; and Stephen G. Breyer and John Paul Stevens, tied at 3 percent.

These latter numbers seem entirely plausible. And that calls into question the Rasmussen poll. Let's take Breyer as an example. If only a very small handful of Americans is even aware that someone bearing his name sits on the Supreme Court, what can it possibly mean that, as Rasmussen reports, Breyer has a favorability rating of 18 percent, 10 points below his unfavorability rating of 28 percent?

The most significant numbers in Rasmussen's poll? Twenty-nine to 54. That's the percentage range of persons surveyed who are willing to admit that, even when supplied the name of an individual justice, that they simply haven't a clue what to think about her or him.


Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Republicans Like Scott Walker Are Building Campaigns Around Problems That Don’t Exist

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

The World

Iran and the U.S. Are Allies

They just aren’t ready to admit it yet.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

How Steven Moffat Made the Best Doctor Who Episode in Years

  News & Politics
Sept. 16 2014 2:11 PM Spare the Rod What Charles Barkley gets wrong about corporal punishment and black culture.
Business Insider
Sept. 16 2014 1:23 PM Germany Has Asked Google to Reveal Its Search Algorithm, but That's Not Going to Happen
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 1:27 PM The Veronica Mars Spinoff Is Just Amusing Enough to Keep Me Watching
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 1:48 PM Why We Need a Federal Robotics Commission
  Health & Science
Sept. 16 2014 1:39 PM The Case of the Missing Cerebellum How did a Chinese woman live 24 years missing part of her brain?
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.