The Supreme Court: Collectively Good, Individually Bad

Slate's blog on legal issues.
May 22 2008 10:37 AM

The Supreme Court: Collectively Good, Individually Bad

Here are some odd poll results from Rasmussen Reports. Americans think that the Supreme Court does a good job but that the Supreme Court justices do a bad job.

For the court as a whole, 41 percent of voters rated the Court good or excellent; 19 percent rated it poor.

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For the individual justices:

Thomas: 38 percent favorable, 50 percent unfavorable

Ginsburg: 36 percent favorable, 35 percent unfavorable

Alito: 26 percent favorable, 38 percent unfavorable

Roberts: 26 percent favorable, 30 percent unfavorable

Scalia: 27 percent favorable, 40 percent unfavorable

Stevens: 17 percent favorable, 30 percent unfavorable

Kennedy: 25 percent favorable, 33 percent unfavorable

Breyer: 18 percent favorable, 28 percent unfavorable

Souter: 16 percent favorable, 31 percent unfavorable

So, except for Ginsburg, all the ratings are negative; and Ginsburg herself hardly receives much of an endorsement. Meanwhile, Congress receives 13 percent good or excellent ratings, yet I believe that voters typically give high approval ratings to their own representatives. Do voters realize that these institutions are composed of people? Maybe when voters rate the court, they unconsciously compare it to Congress and the presidency, but when they rate individual justices, they compare them to some imagined ideal of what a Supreme Court justice does or they recall some unfavorable story about the justice's confirmation hearings or out-of-court activities.

Eric Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, is author of The Twilight of International Human Rights Law. Follow him on Twitter.

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