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Monday, July 10, 2023

Knowledge of SCOTUS

Charles Franklin at Polls and Votes:
The limits of public attention to the Court is vividly illustrated by awareness of the balance of justices nominated by Republican and by Democratic presidents. Nominations have been intensely contested for over a decade (arguably longer) and the three Trump appointments followed in the wake of Obama’s nominee being denied hearings or a vote in 2016 following Justice Scalia’s death. If a lot of politics has been “all about the judges”, much of the public hasn’t followed the story.

Despite a long standing Republican-appointed majority on the Court, and the current 6-3 majority, 30% of the public believes a majority of the justices were appointed by Democratic presidents. About 40% say a majority was “probably” appointed by Republican presidents, and just 30% say a majority was “definitely” appointed by Republican presidents.


More than 60% say they don’t have an opinion of Justice Alito. In November 2022 we asked respondents for their best guess as to which justice authored the Dobbs decision. A quarter correctly picked Alito, with another quarter picking Thomas, and a scattering among the other justices. This is a very difficult question for the general public, who do not as a rule rush to read opinions by their favorite justices. Perhaps it is impressive that as many as 1/4 got Alito right, and Thomas is not a bad guess, given his concurrence. Still, the point is most people don’t have specific information about individual justices even in the most visible decisions.


There is a reporting and messaging lesson here. A substantial share of the audience you are trying to reach is likely unaware of some facts you take for granted. It is important to expand awareness of those facts by making them part of your story, even if they seem “obvious.