Gallup last year: Plurality of Americans ... have never heard of Antonin Scalia

Normally here’s where I’d say “this isn’t America” except that this really is America, a land where 10 percent of college graduates think Judge Judy is on the Supreme Court.

Scalia passing right at the moment that Trump is poised to take over the GOP feels like some sort of Biblical omen.


Follow the link up top to Gallup’s article and you’ll find some data that’ll likely shock you as much as it shocked me: Even among conservatives, Scalia’s net favorable rating as of last summer stood at just +6. (Among Democrats, his rating was net -7. Who would have guessed that the spread between left and right on a lightning rod like Antonin Scalia was a mere 13 points?) As recently as 10 years ago, Scalia was a solid +36 among conservatives. What happened? I think Gallup’s read on that shift is correct, that it has little to do with Scalia himself and everything to do with growing contempt for the Court generally among the wider population, including on the right. There are many conservatives, I’m sure, who know enough about the Court to know who Scalia is but who follow Court news too casually to follow how the individual justices voted in high-profile cases. How many Americans, even on the right, know who wrote the majority opinion in Heller? How many could tell you how Scalia voted in the drumbeat of cases expanding gay rights and ultimately legalizing gay marriage? What percentage read past the headline the day the Court upheld ObamaCare to learn which five members of the Court cast the decisive votes? To some extent Scalia was a victim of Americans’ egregious civic ignorance, especially when it comes to the judiciary. He was arguably the most influential advocate for conservatism in government for fully 30 years, and even so — nothing better than +6, even among conservatives. Pitiful.

Speaking of Scalia’s popularity then and now, here’s a corker of an op-ed in the Independent Journal today by John Boehner about the 1996 presidential campaign:

The center of Dole’s appeal was the opportunity to return gravitas and adult leadership to the White House. But to turn it into electoral success, nearly everyone agreed, Dole needed some rocket fuel. He needed a running mate who would act as a force multiplier for the argument that was the centerpiece of Dole’s campaign, while also bringing an element of buzz and excitement that had been missing, particularly among Reagan-Gingrich conservatives yearning for a champion.

The solution, I believed, was right in front of us — or more accurately, across the street from my hideaway office in the Capitol, in the chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court. It was a brilliant, engaging, conservative Italian-American justice with a large, Catholic family, with potential cross-generational appeal and the ability to help reconstruct the broad coalition that had made Ronald Reagan president 16 years earlier. It was a pick nobody would have seen coming, and one with the potential to ignite the Dole campaign in a manner no one thought possible.

Yes, really: Scalia for VP. John Boehner actually considered that idea seriously enough to have approached Scalia with it. I’m as amazed as Charles Cooke, who read the op-ed and titled his reply to it, “John Boehner admits to having no political instincts whatsoever.” Cooke is amazed that Boehner would think Scalia’s skill set would be better applied to the ugly business of retail politics than to rendering judicial decisions. True enough, but what I can’t get past is the idea of encouraging a sitting conservative justice to resign knowing that a president from the other party would appoint his replacement in return for nothing more substantial than the number-two slot on a ticket that was facing long odds in unseating a popular incumbent like Clinton in the first place. To refresh your memory, there were only three reliable conservative votes on the Court in 1996 — Scalia, Thomas, and Rehnquist. Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor made up the rest of the “conservative” majority, but both were famously unpredictable. Having Scalia step down in 1996 would have turned a delicate 5-4 right-ish majority into a 5-4 liberal one that would have controlled the Court to the present day. Unless Boehner thought that Scalia could somehow keep his Court seat while campaigning for executive office as a Republican, which seems preposterous, he would have ended up trading 20 years of control of the judiciary for five months or so of having Scalia on a Republican ticket that almost certainly would have lost badly to Clinton anyway. Amazing.

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