Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Readers pass our Supreme Court quiz, but flunk one question

September 10, 2012 by NCC Staff


The results are in from Constitution Daily’s recent Supreme Court quiz, and nearly 3,000 people got most of our questions right—with one exception.


The quiz consisted of 10 very basic questions about how the Constitution allows the Supreme Court to operate, along with some questions about milestone cases.


And for the most part, people seem to know a lot about the basics of the court.


For seven of the 10 questions, at least 80 percent of people had the correct answer. About 97 percent of people knew that the president nominates any prospective Supreme Court justice, and 95 percent knew about the controversial Citizens United decision about campaign financing.


But a very simple question, which dates back to 1787, tripped up most of our quiz takers. About 72 percent of people thought Supreme Court justices served for life, with immunity from impeachment proceedings.


In reality, the Constitution allows for the impeachment of any federal judge. The Constitution says that judges shall remain in office “during good behavior.” And in the case of the Supreme Court, justices serve for life, or until they decide to retire—or to behave badly.


Back in 1805, Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Chase was impeached and tried in the U.S. Senate, after President Thomas Jefferson led an effort to accuse Chase of “bad behavior” for opposing his efforts to define judicial power.


The Senate didn’t reach a two-thirds vote on any of the eight counts against Chase, setting an unofficial precedent that justices couldn’t be impeached because of their opinions.


But any federal judge can be subject to impeachment, trial and removal for other “bad behavior,” such as for financial impropriety, bribery, and treason, or committing a crime.


The other question in our quiz that confused people was when the Supreme Court starts its annual term. The high court starts its business on the first Monday in October. Only 55 percent of quiz takers knew that.


However, most people understand how many justices serve on the court, which branch of government the court belongs to, and how justices are nominated and confirmed.


About 96 percent of our quiz takers were from the United States and 98 percent of all people completed the test!


Supreme Court quiz results (correct answer marked with an X)

Is the Supreme Court part of the Justice Department?
Yes 17%
No 83% x
How many justices currently serve on the Supreme Court?
Five 1%
Seven 6%
Nine 90% x
Eleven 3%
The annual Supreme Court term starts on the first Monday of   which month?
January 13%
March 22%
October 55% x
June 9%
How long do Supreme Court justices serve on the bench?
For life, with immunity from impeachment 72%
As long as they exercise good behavior 27% x
6 years 1%
12 years 0%
A new Supreme Court justice is nominated by:
The President 97% x
The House 1%
The Senate 2%
The Justice Department 0%
A new Supreme Court justice must be approved, or confirmed, by:
The President 2%
The House 8%
The Senate 89% x
The Justice Department 1%
Which U.S. president later served as Chief Justice of the   Supreme Court?
William Howard Taft 72% x
Thomas Jefferson 14%
Oliver Holmes 12%
Ben Franklin 1%
Which of the following is not a famous Supreme Court decision?
Confederate States of America v. Lincoln 80% x
Bush v. Gore 13%
Marbury v. Madison 6%
Roe v. Wade 2%
The case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas settled the issue of:
Separate but equal facilities 88% x
School vouchers 8%
Illegal searches 4%
Abortion 1%
The ruling in the 2010 Citizens United case allows corporations   and unions to:
Indirectly spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns 95% x
Hold prayer meetings at work 3%
Avoid paying local school taxes 2%
Run March Madness office pools without breaking the law 1%

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