People Who Have Actually Heard of the Supreme Court Don't Like It Very Much

from the whozzat? dept

Cross-posted from
In August, we lamented the fact that nearly two-thirds of Americans couldn’t name a single member of the Supreme Court. At the time, we blamed it on the perceived stupidity of our nation’s population, calling for televised oral arguments in the hopes that they’d someday compete in the ratings with reality shows like Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Unfortunately, given the high court’s resistance to change and the burgeoning evidence that we live in a country that’s overflowing with Honey Boo Boos, neither is going to happen any time soon.

But that’s really beside the point, because even if SCOTUS arguments were televised, they’d likely appear on C-SPAN, a channel that some people have probably never heard of before. Another thing that some people have never heard of before is the Supreme Court itself. That was a serious statement….

According to the latest Pew Research Center survey of 1,501 adults, conducted between March 13 and 17, approximately two percent of respondents claimed that they had “never heard of” the Supreme Court, which is the highest percentage that response category’s seen since 2007. Really? Really?!

Unlike the names of our nine Supreme Court justices, knowledge of the fact that the Supreme Court exists in the first place isn’t mere trivia question fodder. This is something that people learn in grade school, and considering that many of the Court’s high-profile cases have received hours upon hours of television coverage on basic cable, it’s shocking — nay, mortifying — that some can claim they’ve never heard of highest court in all the land. In sum: America, F**K YEAH!

Among the people who have heard of the Supreme Court, the justices’ favorability ratings are near an all-time low. Here’s more info (people who’ve never heard of SCOTUS should read this S-L-O-W-L-Y):

A national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted March 13-17 among 1,501 adults, finds that 52% view the court favorably, while 31% view it unfavorably. Those ratings have changed only modestly since last July, shortly after the court’s ruling to uphold most of the Affordable Care Act.

The WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.) notes that in years prior, between 1987 and 2010 in particular, the Supreme Court’s favorability rating never fell below 57%, and oftentimes was higher than 70%.

Are people just pissed off that “nine unelected people from a narrow legal background” have been responsible for many of our major democratic decisions (e.g., health care reform, immigration enforcement, affirmative action, and gay marriage)? That’s apparently what Justice Kennedy thinks, so it’s probably safe to assume that laypeople feel the exact same way.

But hey, at least these people have an opinion about the Supreme Court and know that it’s not some sort of a fictitious entity like the Justice League. We’re probably better off this way.

Supreme Court’s Favorable Rating Still at Historic Low [Pew Research Center]
A Hardening Opinion of the Supreme Court [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

More stories from Above The Law
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Filed Under: knowledge, opinion, supreme court

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Mar 2013 @ 3:22pm


    I bet that if you ask people what their opinion is of the Higher Supreme Courts (Texas edition), they would probably give it a 77 % favorable rating.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Mar 2013 @ 3:26pm

    Its that people are annoyed by politics in general and how we have a bunch of politicians bought and paid for.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Mar 2013 @ 3:35pm

    Among other things, Citizen United has teed me off about the Supreme court. Worse the majority of the congress critters can't seem to agree it's against their best interests in the long haul.

    It makes mockery of the voting process.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    M. Alan Thomas II (profile), 29 Mar 2013 @ 3:55pm

    And by "don't like it very much" we mean "mostly (52%) like it, with a 5:3 favorable–unfavorable ratio." Which compares favorably with both the President and Congress.

    These are only bad numbers by historical comparison, which I don't think justifies the more absolute headline.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Mar 2013 @ 4:01pm

    Doubtless Justice Kennedy is pleased as punch that his comment has been taken out of context, kinda like Alito's reaction when Obama used a State of the Union Address to chastise the court for a "holding" that it did not so "hold".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Adobe Pace, 29 Mar 2013 @ 4:11pm

    ... it's of no practical value for the average guy-on the street to know anything about the U.S. Supreme Court.

    He has zero influence on what that Court does or who its members are. Understanding the Court's actions & rulings often baffles even highly educated lawyers and academics.

    SCOTUS is just another confusing, unaccountable department in a vast , complex government bureaucracy. Joe-SixPack has a lot more important things to focus on in his life.

    " Who Cares ? " is a very rational response to questions about the Supreme Court.

    Kinda like knowing the all the state capitols in the U.S. -- it's totally useless information to most all people ... and one could easily look it up, if ever needed.

    It's rather a snobbish/elitist attitude to consider SCOTUS so important to average citizens. What Americans really need to know about SCOTUS isn't taught in any formal school.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Mar 2013 @ 5:05pm

    perhaps the main reason is that the court bases it's rulings not on law, not on justice but on personal opinions, ie, if one judge likes something, he'll vote for it, regardless. similarly, the opposite happens.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Hugh Mann (profile), 29 Mar 2013 @ 5:23pm

    Supreme Court often misunderstood

    Well, even those who HAVE heard of the Supreme Court usually don't really understand what it's job is - including the news media. If the media understood the Court, they wouldn't ask stupid poll questions like how many people "agree with" a particular decision. The job of the Court is to interpret our laws and determine whether or not they stand up to Constitutional scrutiny. It is not to determine whether a particular law is a good idea or not. Plenty of things that are bad ideas, or even unfair, may still avoid running afoul of the Constitution. So, when some dumbass reporter asks "do you agree with the Supreme Court's decision on" some case, it's a pretty safe bet the respondents are not basing their answers on their vast knowledge of Constitutional law. They're more likely saying they don't like the circumstances that are the result of the Court's ruling. That's quite a different thing from having an informed opinion about how the Court reached its decision. It's like saying you don't "agree" with your doctor's diagnosis merely because you dislike it, not because you have any real medical reason to dispute it. When the Court renders a decision, the way to get around it is to then push Congress to re-do the law so that it no longer in conflict with the Constitution, or amend the Constitution itself.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    special-interesting (profile), 29 Mar 2013 @ 5:48pm

    The great majority of high school graduates know of the supreme court and possibly hold it in high esteem because of the wonderful human hope that most Americans have for the constitution. Yes that great shining document officially defended by the Justice Branch and except for those who actually paid attention in history class (and had a good teacher) the rating might be high indeed.

    However since the survey was given to adults (some age range would be more informative) we have to factor in personal experience.

    Its not that many don't know or once knew of their (Supreme Courts) existence its the likely fact we don't want to remember. Its common for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) to edit memory. Why? All the bad decisions that have eroded privacy and personal property rights can make anyone cry. Every once and a while something good exits the Supreme Court but don't wait for it.

    One of my more recent quotes “actually (yeah right anytime soon now. Hahaha) expect the courts to toss out about 49 million (of the) filler pages congress likes to pass so much.” kind of sums it up. It amazes me that throwing out legislation shouldn't be the default value. Hope is still there but faint.

    So are they really corporation appointees or when are they actually going to start working like they have read the constitution? Kind of harsh criticism when applied to the (any of the state Supreme Courts also) Supreme Court(s). Does that sound negative? Capitalizing the words seem unnecessary.

    When was the last time an entire act/bill/record was thrown out as garbage by the court system? When was the last time a government official or complicit private firm was punished by the courts for violation privacy or personal property rights? Considering the wild claims about the PATRIOT act and how even that did not encompass the suspected phone/Internet privacy violations... speechless.

    And what about that little detail that electronic communications both analog and digital don't seem to be covered under the term privacy but only by other wire transfer laws?

    Its possible that the courts find it an honor to decide the fate of loosely worded law and not choke on the fact much of it is not concise and specifically worded in solid legalese. (just a possible rationalization on why loosely written law is accepted at that level as pride is always a factor.) The rest (of the 49 million filler pages) is likely just wrong and makes a mockery of the claim 'ignorance is no excuse'.

    Supreme Court? Never herd of them. (But probably should have?)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    michael, 29 Mar 2013 @ 5:56pm

    Adobe Peace said :"... it's of no practical value for the average guy-on the street to know anything about the U.S. Supreme Court ... He has zero influence on what that Court does or who its members are."

    False. Elected officials choose Supreme Court members, and the 'average guy on the street' directly influences who those officials are.

    If more people understood that the Supreme Court are the people who actually decide what laws *mean*, then they might think more carefully about who gets elected to choose them.

    But probably not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Mar 2013 @ 6:46pm

    The UN just department

    The Supreme Court, The final place for a citizen to get justice. The final step of the Justice department.

    Today, The Justice department Should be called the UN-Justice department.

    All the Wrong doing the government is doing, Protected by the UN-Justice department.

    Why would anyone respect the UN-Justice department.

    The justice department must have really poor understanding of English to keep Breaking the 4 amendment like the do!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Mar 2013 @ 6:51pm

    "This is something that people learn in grade school"

    I think a relevant question is, how many of those people are foreigners who were educated elsewhere? How new to the country are they?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Mar 2013 @ 6:53pm


    "approximately two percent"

    I imagine that a high percent of the people here are foreigners, depending on what state.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Mar 2013 @ 6:54pm

    Re: Re:

    (I mean, the percentage of people here in the U.S. in general, not in the survey. Does the survey account for foreigners?)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    velox (profile), 29 Mar 2013 @ 7:35pm

    Let's also not forget that by the very definition of normal population curves at least 2% of the population falls more than 2 standard deviations below the mean for IQ.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Crashoverride (profile), 30 Mar 2013 @ 1:31pm

    You can always pick out the FOX viewer(s) even in anonymous polls

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous, 30 Mar 2013 @ 4:30pm


    Better yet, they might get off their butts and start a much-needed revolution.
    But again, probably not. They'd have to pull their heads out of their butts once they got off them. The fiery revolutionary spirit of 1776 and the 1960s and '70s is gone, replaced by laziness, chickenheartedness, and idiotic flag-waving bull****.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    JEDIDIAH, 31 Mar 2013 @ 2:28pm

    Re: Supreme Court often misunderstood

    Not everything is a popularity contest. Some people that hold a dim view of SCOTUS or some of it's members do so because of a conflicting opinion on the law.

    No. It's not a safe bet that people's opinions are completely based on ignorance.

    Neither doctors nor lawyers are infallible and much of their work can be double checked by publicly available information. Also one is quite often encouraged to "get a second opinion".

    They are judges, not cardinals.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Hugh Mann (profile), 31 Mar 2013 @ 3:32pm

    Re: Re: Supreme Court often misunderstood

    Yes, I am sure that there are indeed some who actually can "disagree" with the Court's opinion. I would be willing to bet big money that the vast majority, though, are not really equipped to be able to criticize the Court's analysis. They can certainly dislike the state of affairs that comes out of it, but most have no clue how the Court actually works, so they have no frame of reference to be able to agree or disagree.

    And as for legal and medical second opinions, nothing I said is in conflict with what you said. Someone can always get a second opinion, and sometimes you can catch a lawyer or doctor missing the mark. Doesn't mean everybody who says they "disagree" with an opinion or diagnosis has any reasonable basis for doing so.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    FM Hilton, 31 Mar 2013 @ 3:35pm

    Forget about the SC!

    That's not surprising, given that a vast section of Americans think that New Mexico is a foreign country and that we won the war in Vietnam.

    But the poll should have asked the other question:

    "Have you ever heard of the US Constitution, or the Declaration of Independence?"

    to be followed by this question:

    "What are the opening words from each of them? "

    I bet the majority of answers would be pathetic, and even worse than not knowing what the Supreme Court is.

    Some school system we have in this country, right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    Thomas (profile), 31 Mar 2013 @ 3:47pm


    the SCOTUS is much like the other government branches - open to bribery and making rulings where a justice clearly has a conflict of interest. The judges have money, own stock, and naturally will rule in favor of companies where they have stock. The judges are very much influenced by politics - be it from the outside organizations, religious groups, the White House, Congress, or the federal spooks. It all adds up to an organization that was set up to protect the constitution, but now protects special interest groups. Lots of the important rulings from the past would never be made today.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2013 @ 4:58pm

    Re: Re: Supreme Court often misunderstood

    Cardinals haven't been worth a flip since Pujols left.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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