Tag Archives: supreme court

Private

Cameras. Phone videos. It’s difficult to have a private life in days of social media.

The topic of today’s post has managed to do just that. The youngest, and newest, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan.

The usual portions of her biography are public. Her father was a lawyer. Her mother an educator. Her academic and employment records require little more than a search word in Google to find. She’s been the first woman in some of her positions: Dean of Harvard Law School and US Solicitor General.

Her current position is her first appointment as a judge. While not unique, you need to go back several decades to find other justices who came from non-judge positions to the court. As expected from an Obama appointment, she tends to vote liberal. Yet she’s independent and prudent enough to reach out to any and all of the other justices to find areas of agreement.

Oh…and the private life. She’s keeping that private. Exhibiting control and self-control over her outside of work activities.

 

 

Traditional

Today we turn our attention to the 17th Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court — John G. Roberts.

At the time of his appointment in 2005, he was the third youngest to be appointed to the position. You need to go back to the early 19th century to find a younger man. So expect him to stay in this lifetime appointment for years to come.

He’s not flashy. Makes headlines by virtue of his job description. His views are often described as “Traditional”. Perhaps that’s a good thing. A little caution and tradition when dealing with issues affecting 350+ million residents is appropriate.

Expect him, and his co-workers, to make the several times this term. An important (okay, only important cases are considered at the court) decision on a portion of the Affordable Care Act (health care) is before the court. On a previous portion of the law Chief Justice Roberts cast the deciding vote. Will he do so again?

Stay tuned.

Approachable

Do you want to interview a US Supreme Court Justice? Are you a member of a recognized media organization? May I suggest you approach Sonia Sotomayor.

While her workspace and sometimes her opinions are separate from the other justices of the court, she’s more likely to respond to requests from those outside of judicial circles.

Justice Sotomayor is only the third woman ever appointed to the court. Justice O’Connor retired three years prior to her confirmation. I can almost see Justice Ginsburg smile in welcome.

This lady’s path to her current position started in the Bronx and went through Yale Law School. Her father, a tool & die maker, died when she was still a child. Her mother, a nurse, emphasized education for both of her children. They are now a judge and a physician — the woman should be proud.

Several years as a prosecutor were followed by some time in private practice. It was her pro bono work at this time that brought her to the attention of politicians and a seat on the US District Court.

She’s the first Latina to sit on the highest court in the land. In her decisions she remembers her past and frequently votes with the “liberal” block of justices. This does not however, silence her own voice as she’s been known to write separate opinions and dissents in addition to casting her vote.

 

Integrity

Integrity. Prudent. Cautious.

These are three of the words used by his peers to describe Samuel Alito prior to his nomination to the Supreme Court.

Justice Alito is a product of the East Coast. He was born in New Jersey, educated at Yale, and served in several positions within this geographical area. He’s also the son of teachers, a characteristic he shares with others on the court.

He was nominated to the court by President George W. Bush and took his seat early in 2006. His opinions and dissents fall on the conservative side of the issues of today.

The media coverage of Justice Alito is unflattering. All but the official biographical sketches dwell on brief breaches of manners — the sort of whispered word or facial expression that would be ignored by a non-judicial official.

It will be interesting if he happens to write any of the opinions of the major cases currently before the court. Then the public will have more actual thoughtful words to shape their own attitude.

 

Quiet

Today we are at the mid-point in our introductions to Supreme Court Justices. Several things in this man’s biography set him apart. Some are obvious. Others not so much.

Clarence Thomas was born and raised in the Savannah, GA area. He is the only member of the court from the South, the only African-American, the sole member to have studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood (left seminary before ordination), and the only member discussed thus far to have not attended Harvard Law School. His law degree is from Yale.

Justice Thomas worked for a corporation prior to his first government duties, aide to Senator John Danforth. His first experience as a judge came in a US Appeals Court and lasted less than two years before he was appointed to his current position.

His confirmation by the Senate was widely discussed in the media. Some thought he lacked judicial experience. Others stepped forward at the hearings and introduced the term and concept of “sexual harassment” into public conversation. In the end, he was confirmed by a narrow margin.

Today he rarely asks questions during oral arguments, preferring to work quietly and within the confines of the court rules. His views are conservative. To the disappointment of many, this includes opposition to affirmative action.

 

Pragmatic

Does it work? Will it have consequences beyond a narrow intention? Is this ruling necessary?

These are some of the questions which likely surface in bold letters for the topic of today’s post — Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Two things he has in common with last week’s profiled justice are: born in California and a degree from Stanford. There are more, as you would expect with ambitious lawyers. Also many differences in the path taken to the Supreme Court and in their private lives.

Just for fun, lets mention of few of the steps on Justice Breyer’s path.

Raised in a Jewish home. An Eagle Scout. Married an English citizen. Professor. Assistant Special Prosecutor of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force. (Glad I never had a work title that long or complicated.) Judge at federal appeals level.

Practical and pragmatic carries into his personal life. This is the Justice most likely to be seen hiking or attending a sporting event.

He asks good questions.  Will this work? Will this last?

 

 

Independent

Today we continue our brief introductions to the sitting Justices on the United States Supreme Court.  I’m taking them in order from oldest to youngest and today we focus on Anthony M. Kennedy.

Justice Kennedy took up his duties on the supreme court in February 1988. Prior to that time he spent time in private practice, as a constitutional law professor, and judge. Immediately before his appointment he served as a federal judge inn the Ninth Circuit.

He’s the oldest, but not the only, current justice to be born in California. He’s the son of a lawyer and studied first at Stanford. Like several of his judicial companions, he also studied at Harvard Law School. He returned to California and centered his career in that state until nominated to the high court by President Reagan.

A formal tie remains in his assignment to handle emergency appeals from the West Coast, including the Ninth Circuit.

Justice Kennedy’s opinions and dissents through the years do not fit entirely into one column of either conservative or liberal. Is the case centered on the reach of government power? Does a social issue intersect with individual liberty? Best to wait until he hears both sides present the facts and deliberates. This is a justice whose opinions you do not want to “assume”.

Focused

Antonin Scalia, currently the longest serving Associate Justice of the Supreme Court has a record that is focused and consistent in his method and rational.

One source referred to his philosophy as that of “originalism” and defined it as considering what the writers intended to be decisive. Justice Scalia does not view the Constitution as a “living” or “evolving” document. On this foundation he has become a defender of religious references in the public square and argues against removing them unless by specific statute.

Like many prominent lawyers, he’s an author. The most recent title in my sources was Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts from 2012. The title also reflects his history of using the text, and often only the text, rather than the legislative history of a statute.

He brought a history of private practice, teaching, and government service to the court when appointed by President Reagan in 1986.

 

Determined

This is the first in a series of posts introducing my readers to the justices of the Supreme Court. The court begins a new session on Monday — an event which puts them in the news.

Determined is only one of several words that could be selected to describe the subject of today’s post. The second woman to serve on the court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is currently the oldest member.

A few situations in her life where determination became necessary.

Harvard Law School: One of eight women in a class of 500.  As a married student with a young child time management and organizational skills would be tested today. In the 1950’s add open hostility from male faculty and classmates to the issues confronting her daily.

Women’s Right Project for ACLU: Women’s rights. Equal rights. Human rights. In the 1970’s much progress was made. Thanks in part to the six landmark cases she argued before the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court of the United States: In 1993 when she took her seat on the court she joined Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman appointed. She managed to make her voice heard. Difficult at best, strenuous for the three and a half years after O’Connor retired, she continues to express her thoughtful opinions on the cases accepted by the court.

Not all of my readers will admire her stand on certain issues. But I would expect all Americans to respect the hard work, intelligence, and determination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.