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OFF BEAT: No high sales of souvenirs from high court health care ruling


The Supreme Court of the United States has certainly dominated headlines lately, but you’d never know it by asking those in the souvenir trade.

For all the attention the nation’s highest judiciary has drawn in recent weeks, sales of Supreme Court-themed T-shirts, magnets, pens and other trinkets have been flat or slightly down so far this year, according to a Reuters report.

Vendors who operate souvenir stands near the Supreme Court building in Washington, including its official gift shop on First Street, say business was quiet last Thursday even as hundreds of people gathered outside the court to hear its ruling on the health care reform law, according to Reuters.

If sales have dropped this year, it certainly hasn’t been for a lack of variety in the items available. Gift shops and online retailers peddle everything from hooded sweatshirts bearing a silhouette of Justice Antonin Scalia and the phrase “WWSD?”—or “What would Scalia do?”—to cookbooks featuring favorite recipes of all nine justices’ spouses, in honor of Associate Justice Ruth Ginsburg’s late husband Martin.

Vendors offered a range of explanations as to why high-profile rulings on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, immigration laws in Arizona and campaign finance rules in Montana haven’t generated any bump in souvenir sales, Reuters reported.

One merchant theorized that the court’s decisions have too little direct impact on day-to-day life to drive sales on their own. Another said the court’s plummeting favorability with the American public—a recent Pew Research Center survey indicated that public opinion of the court had reached an all-time low—was the real reason demand for items like $10 coasters featuring a portrait of Justice Clarence Thomas have dipped.

But the most likely reason merchants haven’t seen a rise in sales, Reuters said, is that court and its justices are simply too muted in terms of their cultural presence to drive a souvenir trade.

“They’ve been careful to stay out of the public eye,” Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow with the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, told Reuters. “It doesn’t surprise me we didn’t see an uptick in sales.”

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