That’s the main thrust of my latest guest post at the IAALS blog. Forced to adopt a wide range of technological resources during the pandemic, courts systems are now better situated to use that technology to improve surveys, observe judicial behavior, and communicate wih the public.
I have a guest post up at the IAALS Blog, which looks at a renewed effort to survey attorneys about judicial performance in Nevada. But unlike formal judicial performance evaluation (JPE) programs in other states, these surveys will be sponsored by the state’s largest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Another difference: the surveys are designed in part to identify poor-performing judges this fall so as to attract election challengers for 2020. I find this second aspect particularly uncomfortable and largely inconsistent with the voter education and self-improvement goals of typical JPE programs, but judge for yourself.
The humdrum unanimity of Supreme Court cases is rarely conveyed to the public, even in passing.
CSPAN/PSB has released a new survey of more than 1000 likely voters, concerning their knowledge of and attitudes about the United States Supreme Court. The results are not particularly encouraging for those who follow the Court closely.
Survey respondents reported very high interest in the Court generally: 90% of respondents agreed that “Supreme Court decisions have an impact on my everyday life as a citizen” and 82% indicated that the issue of Supreme Court appointments was important to their 2016 Presidential vote. Sixty-five percent of respondents stated that they follow news stories about the Supreme Court “very often” or “somewhat often.”
But at the same time, actual familiarity with the Court and its members is middling at best. Nearly 60% of survey respondents could not name a single Supreme Court Justice. And while 71% of respondents said that they were following the recent news about President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, only 28% could actually identify that nominee by name.
Also significant were the latest numbers regarding the public’s perception of the Court: 62% of survey respondents agreed that recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions demonstrate that the Justices effectively split into parties, similar to Republicans and Democrats in Congress. By contrast, only 38% of respondents thought that recent decisions demonstrate that the Court acts in a serious and constitutionally sound manner.
Results like these tend to trouble court watchers, both in terms of the general lack of civic knowledge and with respect to the public’s apparent belief that the Court is primarily political body. These trends do require attention. But a closer inspection suggests that there is no need to panic — at least not yet. Continue reading “Public interest in the Supreme Court is high, but knowledge is low. Should we worry?”