Supreme Court Justices: Still Unknown To Many

July 03, 2013, 3:03 PM UTC

(Week of 6/29/2013)  Last week, the Supreme Court issued a number of controversial opinions — on same-sex marriage, on the Voting Rights Act, and on affirmative action. Yet many Americans claim they have no idea who actually sits on the Court.

In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, more than one in four Americans admitted they didn’t know Chief Justice John Roberts sat on the Court. The same percentage said they weren’t aware that two other high-profile Justices, Clarence Thomas, the only African-American justice, and Sonia Sotomayor, who just published a best seller about her life, were on the Court.

Other Justices are even less well known. One third aren’t aware of Antonin Scalia, the conservative leader, or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the longest serving sitting female justice. Slightly more didn’t recognize Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the Court’s opinion overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, conservative Samuel Alito, and another liberal woman on the Court and most recent appointee, Elena Kagan.

But the least well-known Justice is liberal Stephen Breyer, who like Ginsburg was appointed by President Bill Clinton. Nearly half the public claims never to have heard of him.

Those who say they are aware of a justice generally like that justice—and by wide margins. There are large partisan differences, with Republicans much more likely to have favorable opinions of judges appointed by Republicans, and Democrats favoring those named by Democrats. But there are exceptions. Americans who know who they are divide closely on two of the most conservative Justices, Scalia and Thomas. And there is also a divide on Elena Kagan, the newest justice.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here

Photo source: Press Association