A majority of citizens can't name a single justice, study finds

By Kimberly Atkins

The Daily Record Newswire

Who is this man?

What about this guy?

Who's this?

If you are an average American, you have absolutely no idea.

A new study by FindLaw.com reveals that nearly two-thirds of Americans cannot name a single Supreme Court justice.

The results of the survey also show that being vocal during oral arguments at the court doesn't bring you fame or recognition.

Of the Americans who could name at least one justice, the most recognizable was Justice Clarence Thomas, who famously hasn't spoken during oral arguments since February of 2006. About one in five Americans were able to name him.

The next most well-known justice was Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., with 16 percent name recognition, and then Justice Sonia Sotomayor - likely fresh in some Americans' memories after her recent confirmation hearings - who could be named by 15 percent of Americans.

Justice Stephen Breyer shouldn't worry about being interrupted in restaurants by autograph seekers. His name was recalled by a mere three percent of Americans surveyed, making him the least well-known justice.

Only one percent of Americans could name all nine justices. Some threw in extra names, believing retired Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and/or David Souter were still on the bench.

But don't panic, say the experts.

''This result is not especially surprising nor, by itself, should it be alarming,'' said Cornell University Law School professor and FindLaw legal columnist Michael C. Dorf.

''Even though Supreme Court rulings can have a major impact on contentious issues such as the death penalty, abortion rights, discrimination and environmental protection, the court issues its rulings as a collective body.

"After their 15 minutes before the Senate Judiciary Committee are up, Supreme Court justices rarely appear on television.

"What is a source for concern are polls consistently showing that many Americans are unfamiliar with basic features of our constitutional system,'' he said.

Published: Thu, Jun 10, 2010