Home  /  News & Polls  /

Most Americans Can’t Name Any Supreme Court Justices, Says FindLaw.com Survey

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Washington, DC - In spite of broad, high-profile news coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court in the past year, 57 percent of Americans can’t name any current U.S. Supreme Court justices. According to a new national survey conducted by FindLaw.com, the leading legal Web site, only 43 percent of American adults can name at least one justice who is currently serving on the nation’s highest court.

In any given year, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments to a broad range of high-profile legal and constitutional issues. But in this past year, even greater attention was focused on the Court following the announced retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist and President Bush’s subsequent nominations of John Roberts, the new chief justice; Harriet Miers, who eventually withdrew her nomination; and Samuel Alito, whose confirmation hearings began this week. Interest groups have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to sway public opinion on the nominations.

Still, the FindLaw.com survey finds a majority of Americans cannot name even one U.S. Supreme Court justice. The survey results represent a slight improvement over an identical survey conducted in 2003 that found only 35 percent of Americans could name any of the Supreme Court justices who were serving at that time.

Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, was the justice most frequently identified in the latest survey. O’Connor announced in July 2005 that she will retire from the Court as soon as a replacement justice is seated.

The percentages of Americans who could name each current justice were as follows:

  • 27% Sandra Day O’Connor
  • 21% Clarence Thomas
  • 16% John Roberts
  • 13% Antonin Scalia
  • 12% Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  • 7% Anthony Kennedy
  • 5% David Souter
  • 3% Stephen Breyer
  • 3% John Paul Stevens

Additional results:

  • More men than women (46% to 39%) can name at least one Supreme Court justice.
  • The ability to correctly name Supreme Court justices rises with increases in age, education and household income.
  • Five percent of Americans believe William Rehnquist still serves on the Supreme Court. The former chief justice died in September 2005.
  • Two percent of Americans believe Samuel Alito is a Supreme Court justice.
  • Alito was nominated for a seat on the Supreme Court by President Bush in October 2005, but has not yet been confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
  • The percentage of Americans who can name all nine current Supreme Court justices, statistically speaking, is zero.
  • The percentage of Americans who can name eight or more of the nine current Supreme Court justices also statistically rounds to zero.

The publicity surrounding the appointment of new Chief Justice John Roberts appears to have made an impression. Sixteen percent of those surveyed identified Roberts as a current member of the Court. In the 2003 survey, only 10 percent of those surveyed identified then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist as a member of the Supreme Court.

Incorrect responses from those surveyed as to who is currently serving on the U.S. Supreme Court included George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Thurgood Marshall and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“In a way it’s not surprising that most members of the public can’t name a single Supreme Court justice,” says constitutional historian Stephen Presser, a professor at Northwestern University Law School. “The average citizen probably doesn’t view the judicial role as being as important as the role of Congress, which in effect makes the laws, or the president, who administers the laws. The reality is that who sits on the Supreme Court makes a big difference as to what happens to us as a nation. As such, the public ought to be paying more attention to the Supreme Court and the battles over the nomination of justices.”

Information including U.S. Supreme Court decisions dating back to 1893, profiles of justices, court calendars, briefs and listings of current cases can be found at FindLaw® (www.findlaw.com). Detailed results of the survey can be found at http://public.findlaw.com/ussc/122005survey.html.

The national survey used a representative sample of 1,000 adults nationwide, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, and was conducted for FindLaw.com by Ipsos Public Affairs.

For more information on this press release, please contact:
Chris Deeney
Vice President
Ipsos Public Affairs
312.665.0551

About Ipsos Public Affairs
Ipsos Public Affairs is a non-partisan, objective, survey-based research company made up of campaign and political polling veterans as well as seasoned research professionals. The company conducts strategic research initiatives for a diverse number of American and international organizations, based not only on public opinion research but often elite stakeholder, corporate, and media opinion research. It has offices in Chicago, New York City, Ottawa, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver, and Washington, D.C., with affiliates around the world. Ipsos Public Affairs conducts national and international public opinion polling on behalf of The Associated Press, the world’s oldest and largest news organization. Ipsos Public Affairs is an Ipsos company, a leading global survey-based market research group.

To learn more, visit: www.ipsos-na.com/pa/us/

About Ipsos
Ipsos is a leading global survey-based market research company, owned and managed by research professionals. Ipsos helps interpret, simulate, and anticipate the needs and responses of consumers, customers, and citizens around the world.

Member companies assess market potential and interpret market trends. They develop and build brands. They help clients build long-term relationships with their customers. They test advertising and study audience responses to various media. They measure public opinion around the globe.

Ipsos member companies offer expertise in advertising, customer loyalty, marketing, media, and public affairs research, as well as forecasting, modeling, and consulting. Ipsos has a full line of custom, syndicated, omnibus, panel, and online research products and services, guided by industry experts and bolstered by advanced analytics and methodologies. The company was founded in 1975 and has been publicly traded since 1999. In 2004, Ipsos generated global revenues of € 605.6 million ($752.8 million U.S.).

To learn more, visit: www.ipsos.com

Ipsos is listed on the Euronext Paris Premier Marché, and is part of the SBF 120 and Next Prime Indices as well as eligible to the Deferred Settlement System (SRD). Euroclear code 7329, Reuters ISOS.LN, Bloomberg IPS




Most Americans Can’t Name Any Supreme Court Justices, Says FindLaw.com Survey


Downloads PDF

Press Release


Contact

ChrisDeeney Chris Deeney
Senior Vice President and Operations Director
Global @dvisor
Work+1.312.526.4088