Michael Westendorf, chairman and CEO of the University Center, Mich.-based Saginaw Valley Journal, sent this letter to Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton, and cc’d it to Romenesko.
In an article/blog post on Wednesday, Chris Cillizza writes, “A majority of people don’t know the name of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
More frightening? Eight percent named Thurgood Marshall, who not only was never the Chief Justice but also died in 1993. And let’s not even talk about the four percent who think Harry Reid, a Senator not a member of the Supreme Court, is the Chief Justice.”
While I agree that the statistics about average Americans not knowing basic facts about the Supreme Court are disheartening, it seems that Mr. Cillizza has fallen prey to a lapse in knowledge on the subject as well. John Roberts is not ‘Chief Justice of the Supreme Court’, he is chief justice of the United States. Similarly, Barack Obama is not ‘president of the Executive Branch.’
The title was officially changed by Congress in 1866 at the suggestion of the sixth Chief Justice, Salmon P. Chase. Mr. Chase wished to emphasize the Court’s role as a co-equal branch of government. (See: 28 U.S.C. § 1.) It is also clearly marked in every AP Stylebook that the title is chief justice of the United States.
There was no published e-mail address for Mr. Cillizza when I clicked on his name in order to contact him about this mistake. If you could see that he gets a copy of this message, I would appreciate it very much.
Chairman & CEO
The Saginaw Valley Journal