No One Knows The Names Of Supreme Court Justices. Who Cares?

US Supreme Court
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US Supreme Court

According to a recent poll, 2/3 of Americans could not name a single Supreme Court justice. This news was predictably met with calls for remedial civics lessons … The horror!

But we say: so what if your average citizen can’t identify Justice Kagan, or Justice Kennedy, or the Chief Justice.


Isn’t that why you hire lawyers? It’s our job —  not the average citizen’s — to know who staffs the relevant courts, from the high-and-mighty on the Supreme Court on down to our local municipal judges, and how to pitch our clients’ cases to them.

Besides, there isn’t a lot your average citizen can do about the Supremes and their decisions once they are on the Court — they enjoy life tenure, the Court’s public hearings are not telecast on C-SPAN or the internet, and unlike many of their state counterparts, they don’t campaign (at least in the traditional sense).

What the average citizen should care about, however, is who is doing the picking. Since it seems that, inevitably, all major policy questions become legal questions to be resolved by the Supreme Court, perhaps the most important factor in deciding who to vote for in the presidential race come November should be his or her potential picks for the federal bench.

If everyone paid attention at that stage, it shouldn’t matter that only law nerds could later name the players without a scorecard.



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Robert H. Thomas is one of the preeminent land use lawyers in Hawaii. He specializes in land use issues including regulatory takings, eminent domain, water rights, and voting rights cases. He has tried cases and appeals in Hawaii, California, and the federal courts. Robert received his LLM, with honors, from Columbia Law School where he was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, and his JD from the University of Hawaii School of Law where he served as editor of the Law Review. Robert taught law at the University of Santa Clara School of Law, and was an exam grader and screener for the California Committee of Bar Examiners. He currently serves as the Chair of the Condemnation Law Committee of the American Bar Association’s Section on State & Local Government Law. He is the Hawaii member of Owners’ Counsel of America, a national network of the most experienced eminent domain and property rights lawyers. Membership in OCA is by invitation only, and is limited to a single attorney from each state. Robert is also the Managing Attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation Hawaii Center, a non-profit legal foundation dedicated to protecting property rights and individual liberties. Reach him at He is also a frequent speaker on land use and eminent domain issues in Hawaii and nationwide. For a list of upcoming events and speaking engagements.