American Idol: The SCOTUS Edition

Who's the supreme Supreme? CBS Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen has the answer. -- Ed.

(AP)
The poll results are in! Oh, wait, the election is over. That, and the fact that we are roughly 700 days away from the next election, unfortunately hasn't stopped the pollsters from polling us about issues and people, large and small. My favorite poll of the week came from the folks at Rasmussen Reports, who took the time to earnestly ask Americans (well, actually, only "likely voters") what they think of their U.S. Supreme Court. Never mind who I like better, Paris or Nicole, this was the type of poll that a legal beagle like me could sink his teeth into.

So I too the time and read the poll results. Only 45 percent said that they have a "favorable opinion" of the august body—although the pollsters tell me that this is actually up from 40 percent last year. Meanwhile, 30 percent of those polled have an unfavorable opinion of the Court and 20 percent just don't know what to think. More ominously, even as the Court takes fewer cases and shows more deference to the White House and Congress, 31 percent of those who responded to the Rasmussen poll said that they believe the Justices have too much power. Forty percent also said that the Court is too hostile toward religion.

I was about to become discouraged until I read the poll numbers that put Justice Clarence Thomas as the "most popular" Justice with a 48 percent favorable rating. Now, there are a lot of categories where I would put Justice Thomas at the top of my list (most grim, most somber, most likely to nod off during oral argument, least likely to be remembered as a great justice, etc.) but to think that he is viewed more favorably than the true shakers on the Court reaffirms my faith in the idea that polling is pretty much a load of hooey. I mean, honestly. Even though not ever asking a question during oral argument is an admirable trait that Justice Thomas possesses, and one that other Justices might want to emulate, it should not be enough to vault him over, say, the new Chief Justice, John G. Roberts, Jr.

Besides, the whole point of the Supreme Court, and the Bill of Rights, for that matter, is that the federal judiciary should be in almost all cases immune from public pressure and political popularity contests. It's true that the Supreme Court has been at its most shaky over the past 200 years when it has gone too far afield of public opinion too quickly. But that doesn't mean I want my Supreme Court Justices, especially the dour and disappointing Justice Thomas, to be tracked by the very same numbing pollsters who are telling me today whom the presidential nominee will be next summer. Some things are better left unknown.