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Most Americans don't know, or seem to care, about Supreme Court

June 25, 2012|By Rene Lynch
  • According to a new poll, a majority of Americans cannot name the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
According to a new poll, a majority of Americans cannot name the chief justice… (Alex Brandon / Associated…)

They might well be the most powerful men and women in the nation, but most Americans probably couldn't pick the members of the U.S. Supreme Court out of a lineup. (Unless perhaps they were the only ones wearing long black robes.)

As the court's current term draws to a close, it's issuing a series of monumental decisions this week that will affect every man, woman and child in the country. Today alone, the court handed down a split decision on Arizona's controversial immigration law, and ruled that it was unconstitutional to send juveniles to prison for life without the possibility of parole.

And of course, a decision on President Obama's controversial healthcare proposal is expected any day now.

But according to a Pew Research Center Poll, a majority of Americans cannot name the court's chief justice. (The survey was taken in 2010, but there's little to suggest that Americans have been boning up on their Supreme Court knowledge since then.)

From the survey: Only 28% correctly identified John Roberts as the chief justice of the Supreme Court. More than half said they didn't know.

Perhaps more alarming? Eight percent said the chief justice was Thurgood Marshall (who died in 1993), while 6% said it was former justice John Paul Stevens; 4% said it was U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

The poll also found that, when it comes to party politics, independents know more about the U.S. Supreme Court than their partisan counterparts.

"Among partisans, 23% of Republicans, 27% of Democrats and 34% of independents correctly identify Roberts as the chief justice," the poll found.

Additional Pew polls found that Americans had absorbed little information about justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, despite a blizzard of media coverage about their nominations and confirmations.

If the justices are miffed that Americans might know more about The Supremes than the U.S. Supreme Court, it's possible they only have themselves to blame.

The justices serve largely behind closed doors and out of the public eye as cameras are not allowed inside the court, and the justices have not actively tried to change that tradition.

Moreover, justices largely avoid making media appearances and public commentary. When justice do speak publically, it always makes headlines, which could help boost their profile.

But then again, some justices manage to make headlines when they say nothing at all.

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Join Rene Lynch on Google+ or Twitter. Email:rene.lynch@latimes.com

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