Mike Berman’s Washington Watch

June 29, 2012 11:59 AM

Odds and Ends

As of close of business on Friday, March 30, 2012, nine men and women, the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, likely knew the general substance of the Court’s decision as to the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. Earlier in the week, the Court had heard what may have been an unprecedented three days of argument on a single case.

Shortly thereafter, the Justices’ clerks (each Justice apparently has four) knew the decision. It is possible that the clerks for retired Justices got the word. Over time, the Chief Justice’s Chief of Staff and a few others knew. And, then as time went on, the information was known to the staff of the Court responsible for printing and distributing the final decision. All in all, sixty to seventy people may have come to know the substance of the decision, prior to its announcement.

Broadcast and cable news programs aired endless stories about what might happen. Newspapers and magazines used up endless amounts of ink. Bloggers had a field day. Panels of experts were surveyed and voiced their opinions. Politicians commented about the implications of a decision one way or another. InTrade sold shares on the outcome. (As of June 23rd, shares representing the view that the “individual mandate would be held unconstitutional” could be purchased at a cost of $77.00 and could be sold for $76.30.)

Yet, until Chief Justice Roberts announced the court’s decision on Thursday, June 28th, there was not a single authoritative leak made public as to the primary substance of the decision. What are the chances of that happening in either the Executive or Legislative branches of the Federal government, or any other level of government for that matter?

As an aside, the Court has handled this case rather expeditiously. During the 2010-2011 term of Court, the average number of days between oral argument and opinion in any decision that was as close or closer than a vote of 7-2, took 130 days. The argument- to-opinion time frame in this case was 90 days. [Tom Goldstein/SCOTUSblog]

There is considerable angst about what is described as the “conservative bent” of the court being led by Chief Justice John Roberts. The argument is made that the Court’s decisions, like the decision in Citizens United which changed Federal campaign financing, represent decisions that are being made by a Court driven by partisan politics more than the Constitution. The decision in the Affordable Care Act does to some extent undercut that argument.

There was a time, not so long ago, when conservatives complained as loudly about the Court’s direction as liberals are today. It is another example of what goes around, comes around.

Many observers say that the Court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren from 1953 to 1969 was as liberal, if not more so, than the current court is conservative. The cases that marked his era include: Brown v Board of Education, ending school desegregation; Baker v Carr, the “one man one vote” case; Gideon v Wainwright mandating a “right to counsel;” Mapp v Ohio, the “search and seizure case;” Engel v Vitale, “outlawing mandatory school prayer;” and Griswold v. Connecticut “protecting the right to privacy.”

Because of the composition of the Court at the time of his retirement, the Court continued in the direction pointed by Warren throughout the term of the next Chief Justice, Warren Burger, who was a conservative. The whole period under the two Chief Justices is probably the only time the Court has been described as left of Center.

Burger was followed by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who led the court from 1986 until 2005. It was Chief Justice Rehnquist who led the transition of the Court from its philosophically liberal posture to the philosophically conservative Court of today.

The Gallup organization has asked a variety of questions about the U.S. Supreme Court over the years. Gallup has asked Americans whether they approve of the way the Court is handling its job and whether they have confidence in the Court.

As of September 2011, 46% approved of the way the Supreme Court was handling its job, while 40% disapproved. Over the last dozen years there have been only two times when the Court’s approval rating was in the forties. Most recently, in June 2008 it had a 48% approval rating and a 38% disapproval rating. The low point of the period was in June 2005, when its approval rating was 42% and its disapproval rating was 48%. The latter is the only time when disapproval was higher than approval.

The high point during these years was in 2001, when 62% approved of the way the Court was handling its job. The most recent high point was September 2009, when 62% approved the job being done.

Over the last 40 years, Gallup has asked respondents how much confidence they have in the Court. In June 2012, 37% of Americans expressed a great deal/quite a lot of confidence in the court. During the preceding forty years, this level of confidence has been as low as 32% in June 2008, and as high as 56% in 1988 and 1985. High confidence has not broken 40% since 2006.

Finally, when Americans were asked in September 2011, how much trust and confidence they have in the three branches of the Federal government, the Federal judicial system does quite well when compared to the other two. 

  Great deal/ Fair amount Not very much/ None
Judicial branch, headed by U.S. Supreme Court 63% 36%
Executive Branch, headed by The President 47% 52%
Legislative Branch U.S. House and Senate 31% 69%
By way of further comparison
State government 57% 42%
Local government 68% 32%

The Pew Research Center has also examined attitudes toward the Supreme Court. In April, it found 52% of Americans with a favorable attitude toward the Court. Favorability toward the Court reached a high of 80% in 1994. Since then it has fallen as low as 57% in 2005, bounced back up to 68% at one point and then down again to 57% in 2007. The Court’s unfavorable score in April was 29%, approaching its previously high unfavorable score of 30% in 2005.

Americans are just about as positive about Hillary Clinton as they have been at any time in the last twenty years. 66% rate her favorably. The high point was in 1999, when 67% had that view. Even 41% of Republicans rate her favorably, as do 65% of independents, and no surprise, 91% of Democrats. Currently, 29% rate her unfavorably, and there have been occasions over the last two decades when her unfavorability score reached 50%. [Gallup 5/12]

Democrats (34%) have more confidence in TV news than Republicans (17%) or Independents (17%). Only 29% of Americans have confidence in the public schools. Republicans (21%) have the least confidence in public schools, as compared to Independents (28%) and Democrats (36%).

Republicans (16%) are the most confident in the Congress, whereas only 12% of Independents and 10% of Democrats give that body high marks. [Gallup]

The following is probably not all that scientific, but WW thinks it is a reasonable representation of where Americans get their information about national issues and how much they trust those sources.

The News Source numbers are from a survey done by a capable and well respected pollster. The Trust information comes from the AllState/National Journal/ Monitor Poll XIII.

In the News Source survey, respondents were asked to list their two main sources of news on national issues. Respondents volunteered their sources and were not presented with a list. In the Trust survey they were asked how much they trust various specific sources. The two surveys do not match up, that is to say that there are sources of information listed that were not on the Trust survey, and there is information on the Trust survey about sources not included in the Source survey.

The most trusted source is public TV and radio. The least trusted source is social media.

  Trust Great Deal / Some Not very much / Not at all

6% - Public TV and NPR radio

75% 22%

30% - Newspapers

715 25%

40% - Cable News Networks/CNN Fox/MSNBC

70% 27%
21% - Network news/ ABC, NBC, CBS 64% 34%
5% - Magazines 57% 36%
4% - Talk radio programs 53% 40%
19% - Websites of news organizations -- --
11% - News pages of internet service -- --
22% - Local TV news -- --


The generational divide on the use of the internet is diminishing.

82% of all adults 18 years of age and older use the internet.

  • 67% use it on a typical day
53% of American adults age 65 or older use the internet or email

  • 70% use it on a typical day
  • 34% use social networking sites like Facebook
  • 18% use such sites daily
34% of adults older than 75 use the internet or email daily [Pew 4/12]

Among those age 13–17 years of age

  • 90% have used social media at one time or another
  • 67% text daily
  • 51% visit a social media site daily
However, contrary to what has become the popular belief, the internet is not this age group’s way to communicate with their friends

  • 49% prefer in-person communication
  • 33% prefer texting
  • 7% prefer social media sites
  • 4% prefer the telephone
[Wash Post 6/27/12]

In the age of the internet, the media is ubiquitous.

There are:

  • 364 million English language websites
  • 41 million German language
  • 31 million Russian
  • 30 million Japanese
  • 29 million Spanish
  • 29 million Chinese
  • 25 million French
  • 8 million Arabic
835 million people are on Facebook, and the following number of items were shared per day

  • 2 billion items in 2010
  • 4 billion in 2011
  • 32 billion a day by 2014
About 7 trillion text messages will be sent this year

About 140 million people will send out tweets in 2012

  • The median twitter user is followed by 187 people in 2011
  • 340 million tweets are sent per day
  • 124.1 trillion tweets are sent per year

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