Hey, Justices: Stop Talking, Start Working

Justice Clarence Thomas is in a full (and heretofore unheard of) publicity mode. The quietest member of the Supreme Court is scheduled to appear on 60 Minutes on Sunday, Sept. 30, to plug his new book and has also agreed to sit for an interview or two with legal reporters.

Meanwhile, Justice John Paul Stevens is the subject of a cover story in this Sunday's New York Times magazine. And Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. made appearances at the University of Montana and Syracuse University this month, praising "independent" judges.

At this rate, we'll be seeing Justice Antonin Scalia doing David Letterman's Top Ten, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg critiquing the red carpet with Joan Rivers and Justice Anthony Kennedy appearing on "America's Got Talent."

Our justices are loose upon popular culture -- and I'm not crazy about it.

Look, I'll admit that I find it intriguing that Justice Stevens "telecommutes" from his home in Florida, as Jeffrey Rosen notes in the Times magazine piece. And I concede that the many intellectual and historical contradictions of Justice Thomas make for fascinating reading on a cold winter night. And I hope that the chief justice remembers his spiel about judicial independence when he has to decide (in the next few months) whether and to what extent the court should halt the expansive march of presidential power of the Bush era.

But, before I'm comfortable allowing the justices to go around on the speaking circuit, I'd like them to do their job, which is to select and then decide the cases handed to them through the system. They are supposed to clarify ambiguous legal doctrines, offer certainty to businesses and individuals alike, and, most importantly, act as a check upon the excesses of the other two branches. And, on this score, their most fundamental task, the justices aren't up to snuff. They are all hooky and no school, all go and no show, too much sizzle and not enough steak.

Despite promises to the contrary by Chief Justice Roberts during his confirmation hearing, the court is hearing fewer and fewer cases. As the Times' Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse noted last December: "The court has taken about 40 percent fewer cases so far this term than last. It now faces noticeable gaps in its calendar for late winter and early spring. The December shortfall is the result of a pipeline empty of cases granted last term and carried over to this one. The number of cases the court decided with signed opinions last term, 69, was the lowest since 1953 and fewer than half the number the court was deciding as recently as the mid-1980s."

This term isn't starting out much better. There are only 25 or so cases on the docket so far-- and only five cases scheduled for oral argument in November. The justices on Monday hold what court insiders call the "long conference", during which they will consider an additional 26 cases for review in the upcoming term. They can also add cases to the docket throughout the term.

But unless the dynamic drastically changes within that conference room, the Supreme Court again will be less involved in referreeing disputes that touch upon the lives of virtually every citizen. This is really a shame. And it certainly makes it harder for me to look at these preening justices with much more than old-fashioned disdain. They already have the cushiest jobs in government; they should at least have the good sense to hear at least 100 cases each term-- before they are allowed go out on their book tours.

By Andrew Cohen |  September 21, 2007; 8:25 AM ET
Previous: Congress Again Takes the Low Road | Next: Jump-Swinging from Nooses in Jena


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Criticize the Supreme Court for not assuming responsibility for the multitude of issues dodged by spineless politicians in Congress? For many years the pols have hidden behind the judicial skirts so the Court has become ever increasingly politicized as a result. The more issues that are kicked back to the legislative process the better. Many commenters to this blog have lamented the unresponsiveness of both political parties to the popular will. The Court is even more remote and unresponsive by design. Elections and legislation are the proper way to make laws. The court is meant to ensure the constitutionality of the process, not rule for the people.

Posted by: okbyme | September 21, 2007 11:19 AM

Stop Talking, Start Working - Is it October yet?

Actually, I agree. It's easy to wonder "Why do we pay thses people?" when you look at what's been happening with the Dwindling Docket.

They are there for "referreeing disputes that touch upon the lives of virtually every citizen." Yet we facilitate them living the lives of the Privileged, and they socialize among those that will just reinforce their basic political leanings.

I don't agree with Judge Thomas very often, but I have to give him credit for being out among the people, spending more time in his community in the suburbs tele-commuting, than those that have their chauferred rides from home to the Court.

I'm glad to see that Judge Stevens is doing some of that also.

Posted by: DC | September 21, 2007 12:02 PM

Andrew, always good stuff. And interesting statistics. I've also noticed that although your column is called "Bench Conference" you have few columns about the Supreme Court. I guess they aren't giving you much material due to their lack of working.

BTW what are you thoughts about the Jena 6 situation? Why is the DA so intent on charging the black students with murder charges when he tossed out the cases for white kids that made a similar assault on a black student around the same time? Is there any course of redress that the black families can take against the seemingly unjust legal system that will cost their family tons of money in legal fees, when the white students didn't have to spend nearly as much?

Posted by: Good work Drew | September 21, 2007 01:14 PM

Actually, I like to see the justices talking and making appearances, writing books, etc. They have incredibly critical jobs, and shining some light on them as people, and on what they think, etc., is a good thing.

Posted by: Li | September 22, 2007 12:34 AM

These justices have about zero credibility, since the 2000 disgraceful decision. As to them not working enough, hey they're Republicans....they don't believe in allowing government to function. That way they can say government doesn't work. Just a different Branch is all.

Posted by: Kater | September 22, 2007 03:22 AM

The New London Kelo decision by the Supreme Court was a perfect example of the ideology and mind-set of liberals vs. conservatives and Democrats vs. Republican.
Every justice that voted to take away the private property from Americans and give it to businesses and corporations because the local municipalities could then make more tax-monies was liberal. Supreme Court Justices Ginsberg, Souter, Stephens, Kennedy, and Bryer all voted to take away the private property of Americans. The Supreme Court Justices, Thomas, Scalia, O'Connor, and Renquest, that voted against taking the private property of Americans, were all conservatives.

Posted by: madhatter | September 22, 2007 12:30 PM

The New London Kelo decision was actually a decision made by a Right wing majority of justices. Think about it.

Bush got into his first term when the Supreme Court ran out the clock while we the people were trying to recount the votes that were tossed out by the shifty elements down in Florida.

Since Bush took office, Two new Supreme Court justices were added by a Congress with a Republican majority. Bush sent out the word who he would like to see nominated and the Conservative Congress put them in.

The Kelo decision for those of you who don't know, allows any developer to sieze your property if they choose. If they can show a city that they will end up paying higher taxes than you can pay then they can be granted permission to give you a 90 day notice to get your butt off of their newly acquired land.

Regardless of how long you have lived there, how long it has been in your family, it makes no difference. Say you were planning to put in a swimming pool, or build a guest house.. Too bad. The developer gives you fair market value for your property and you leave.

This seems to somehow go against the phrase... Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. But a Conservative Supreme Court didn't think so. Why?

You guessed her Chester.... Money.

Like Bush said at a prestigious gathering of elite people a few years ago.
" It's good to be among The Haves and The Have Mores."

Here's something that most Republicans may not be aware of; You are not a Have More by any stretch of the imagination. You may have your hopes and dreams, but you ain't getting in the Club believe me. If you are worth more than 10 million they might allow you but if you aren't, they see you in a different light, a light you may not like.

You get them what they need, you give them your vote to take away your rights.

Believe me when some big rich corporate mogul looks at your neighborhood and thinks he would like his Industrial Park, or his Corporate recreation golf course right smack dab in the middle of where you and all your neighbors live, then all of you will go, even if you're all registered Republicans.

The U.S. Ship of State is supposed to balanced. Read about checks and balances sometime. Any Captain knows that when you load cargo into a ship's hold, you don't put too much on the right or left otherwise you can get into big trouble quick, should you run into nasty weather, which we have.

Our Ship of State has been heavily weighted to the Right for too long. Even when you got rid of some of the dead weight last election by tossing out several Republicans, it didn't make much difference.

We the people can't achieve the majority number of 60 needed to get things done, So we need to off-load at least 40% more of them before they drag us into another mess.

Though the majority of people and congress are for winding down this fiasco war, you can do nothing about it. Though the majority of you want the government to stop spying on you, you can do nothing about it.

Wake up and jettison the congressmen that the Rich send to represent the rich.
Don't think you're one of them, forget about your values being anything like theirs. There's only one thing they value and it ain't, saluting the flag, prayer in school, or right to life. It's Money and more money.

They put strategic people into place. The Supreme Court is no exception.

It was not a Liberal Supreme Court majority that ran out the clock to get Bush into his first term, and it's a whole lot more Conservative now than it was then.

So don't let peoples words fool you. Send out the Clowns. Toss them overboard.

Posted by: Normanartmasterwork | September 23, 2007 01:04 AM

Did the clown really say that about the haves and have mores? But it fits my impression of some of his mindset-not so much simple affiliation with the rich, but rather the justification that simply to have the status is inherent justification of one's superior quality, and that one is entitled just by being in the position whatever means they used to get there (lot of his wacko but popular theology follows along these same lines --actually a pretty comprehensive system for all life as long as one foregoes any notion of a soul and thinks can break everything down into essences of positive and negative values (and fits right into their brand of capitalism, tailor made for a marketing society manufacturing wants), notwithstanding even that problem, the further desire to equate a positive value with what gratifies or advances one; at most , one may "make up" with a good act for someone else.

No, still a negative act doesn't become resolved with a positive one, at least in my view. oh, and man made laws don't matter, ethics is between them and their deity, so are free to do whatever they choose.)

Posted by: Brad | September 24, 2007 11:47 AM

Normanassmasterworks is a typical liberal Democrat.
He/she tries to cover true history up with a red herring explanation and a fact(?) he/she makes up out of thin air to re-write history so USA's liberals and Democrats don't get the blame.
The vote on the New London Kelo Decision was 5 to 4.
Voting FOR the taking of our private property:

Voting AGAINST the taking of private property:

It's easy to check Normassmasterworks. You proved a point though. Figures don't lie, but liars figure.

Posted by: madhatter | September 24, 2007 11:26 PM

I'd rather not admit that the facts "Mad" gives are persuasive, when he says something opposite to this Norman guy. Is there something else relevant to the picture?

Posted by: Ken | September 25, 2007 11:15 AM

Of course he could show more familiarity with the Supreme Court by spelling their names close to right, it's like walking around with one's pants down.

Posted by: | September 25, 2007 11:17 AM

This is an interesting point of view.
Comparing the judges to students skipping school made me laugh.
However, I can honestly say that I agree with you.
The judiciary branch is already considered weak and the lack of work is making it's power even smaller.
40% less.
That's quite a bit of change.
Step it up, Justices.

Posted by: GWHannahFisher | September 27, 2007 09:49 PM

madhatter...you're right! my exact reaction as I read that incredible piece of non-logic!

btw...for all the caterwauling...home come the libs never assign true responsibility for 9/11 where it belongs? BILL CLINTON...during whose pudenda-phoric Presidency all the planning, all the build up, all the training....took place?

mad......there is a deeper theme here that liberals simply don't understand...it's not that Bush might be prone to solipsisms, mispronunciations, perhaps outright lieing.......it's that liberals are doing the same.....they live on the same moral plane. this is a theme that wil lcertainly be explored and expanded upon as the dynamics of power change over the enxt few years.

Posted by: lmao | October 11, 2007 08:19 PM

You did not answer my question!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: | November 3, 2007 02:34 PM

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