John Paul Stevens’ tenure as an associate justice of the Supreme Court lasted 34 years, 6 months, and 11 days, the capstone of a career that included time as a law clerk to Supreme Court justice Wiley Rutledge, judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and private attorney. Throughout his lifetime of legal service, Stevens interacted with some of the most respected and prolific legal minds in modern American history, including five Chief Justices of the United States.
Five Chiefs, as the name implies, relays Stevens’ experiences with these jurists. But these anecdotes about Chief Justices Fred Vinson, Earl Warren, Warren Burger, William Rehnquist, and John Roberts are merely scenery, serving as a (successful) motif by which Stevens conveys the origins and evolution of his own jurisprudence. And this is what makes Stevens’ newly released memoir so fascinating: It offers an extraordinary glimpse into the mind of a man who once wielded one-ninth of the legal might of America’s highest court.
The Supreme Court began its 2011 term today. Below, Prof. Carolyn Shapiro of the IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law highlights some of the interesting and important cases the Court has already slated for arguments.
Prof. Carolyn Shapiro comments on the role the Court played in the controversial execution of Troy Davis on September 21.
Davis was convicted for the 1989 murder a police officer in Savannah, Georgia, based largely on eye witness testimony. Many of these witnesses, however, recanted their testimony. After a series of hearings and appeals, including an order by the Court directing a federal district court to review the case, Davis was set to be executed.
A last minute petition for stay of execution to the Supreme Court drew intense public interest, especially in social media. The Court, however, declined to intervene a second time.
The New York Times published an editorial today in support of a proposal last week from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The proposal advocates–and the editorial endorses–a presumption for openness regarding the Court’s records. Beyond its paper records, the Court continues to shield itself from public access, restricting its public sessions to those lucky enough to have a seat in the courtroom. The rest of us must wait days if not months to hear what has transpired there.
The editorial ends with a compelling quote by Judge Frank Easterbrook of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit: “The political branches of government claim legitimacy by election, judges by reason. Any step that withdraws an element of the judicial process from public view makes the ensuing decision look more like fiat.” So it could be said for delaying or complicating the public’s access to its highest court.
Neil Katyal, former Acting Solicitor General, won a unanimous decision in a major climate case in the 2010 Term. But some states continue to sue polluters under their public nuisance laws. Katyal–now a partner at Hogan Lovells LLC–said: “I have to try really hard to come up with a lawsuit that’s less appropriate for the federal courts to resolve.” Read more here.
Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer spoke at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law on Monday, September 12, 2011. Prior to his address, we produced and played an introductory video reflecting on Breyer’s 17+ years of service on the Court. We integrated commentary by Professors Sheldon Nahmod, Carolyn Shapiro, and Edward Lee with selections from Justice Breyer’s majority opinion announcements, dissents from the bench, and oral arguments. Please watch the video, now in two parts. Feel free to share this with others who may share an interest in Justice Breyer’s career.
We shall link or post Breyer’s remarks in the next few days.
Professor Geoffrey Stone of the University of Chicago Law School lays out a detailed argument with the following objective: “The conservative constitutional narrative is deeply unprincipled and patently wrong, both in its defense of conservative judicial ideology and in its attack on what conservatives deride as a result-oriented “liberal” jurisprudence. In fact, most of the decisions the conservatives deride are premised on sound principles of constitutional interpretation and on the Framers’ own understanding of our Constitution and of the essential role of courts in our constitutional system.” Read more here.
A group of House Democrats are pushing for tougher ethics standards for Supreme Court justices. They want to hold the justices to the same high standards that apply to all other federal judges. It seems obvious that this proposal is a non-starter in the Republican-controlled House. But it does draw attention to the different standards that apply for the high court. Read more here including the letter proposal signed by 43 members.
Justice Clarence Thomas is co-teaching a constitutional law seminar at George Washington University Law School this semester. Thomas has partnered with Professor Gregory Maggs, who clerked for Thomas in the 1991 Term, Thomas’s first year on the bench. Read the full story here.
OpenSecrets.org has analyzed the justices’ most recent financial disclosure statements here. You can find the justices’ financial disclosure statements on their individual pages in Oyez through 2010, the most recent period available. The statements go back back several years.
OpenSecrets analyzed the 2009 statements and will release a similar comparative table of minimum, average, and maximum net worth later this year. It is unclear whether OpenSecrets relied on Justice Clarence Thomas’s original or amended statement, which addressed the matter of his wife’s income for the first time.