In light of the drama (some might say calamity) that is the partisan Supreme Court appointments process in the United States, a number of Canadian commentators have eagerly pointed out that Canadians can't even name our Supreme Court justices. This, they assert, reflects our non-politicized Court.

Without dismissing this entirely as the typical Canadian superiority in the face of the utter disaster that is contemporary American politics, I think an important distinction needs to be made between having a strong appointments system - one that avoids overt partisanship and the extreme polarization of the US Court - and thinking that our Court is somehow apolitical.

So, while it's true most Canadians can't name an SCC judge - and that this is most definitely a product of our less politicized and effectively non-partisan appointments process - I think we should recognize this ignorance of individual judicial personalities for what it is: a double-edged sword.

For one thing, the fact that appointments to Canada's top court is not (normally) subject to partisan contestation does not make it apolitical. Liberal Prime Ministers do not appoint 'conservative' judges. And while Stephen Harper was accused by some commentators as trying to 'stack the Court' with conservatives, it is more accurate to say he steadfastly avoided appointing progressive judges. 

This is a reflection of the fact that many of the decisions the Court makes are inherently infused with politics and judicial decision-making at that level - especially in constitutional law - cannot be separated from the judges' innate sense of moral justice. In short, ideology matters. Who sits on the Court matters. 5-4 decisions may not be quite as frequent as they are down south, but they happen often enough that we know a single judge can make the difference between a law standing or being struck down as unconstitutional.

So when Canadian pundits point to our citizens' general ignorance of who sits on our Court, I'm very much of a mixed mind. Yes, our Court is stronger for not having its membership subject to outright partisan contestation. We should avoid changing the culture around appointments to ensure we do not fall victim to such ills.

But the simple fact is that most Canadians do not appreciate the political aspects of the Court's work. They do not realize that a non-partisan appointments process doesn't magically lead to an apolitical Court. The nine members of the Court are among the most power political actors in the country. Their individual ideology is a factor in their decision-making. Who they are matters. Ignorance of that reality is not a good thing.