Most every Supreme Court junkie has done some time at the Oyez Project listening to Warren-era oral arguments and famous dissents from the bench, or clicking through the Court’s class photos all the way back to 1865. One of my first app downloads upon upgrading to a smartphone was Oyez’s PocketJustice.
And this week, Oyez has released its latest iPhone app, OyezToday. It’s free and it’s fun: I spent a few hours on a bus to New York yesterday playing around with the app, exploring its descriptions and media of this term’s cases. Indeed, OyezToday is the Court’s watcher’s current events fix to complement PocketJustice’s historical inventory.
Please pardon my turning my attention towards Congress this afternoon, but I must plug two items lest that evil cloud consume the Capitol:
- The Atlantic’s politics page today published the piece, “How the Filibuster Wrecked the Roman Senate—and Could Wreck Ours,” written by Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni. I cut my blogging teeth alongside Rob and Jimmy back in 2006 at the now-defunct “18-24 Bracket” website, where they first introduced their brilliant policy minds to the Internet. The two of them are now at work on a book about Cato the Younger, the indefatigable and incorruptible Stoic of the Roman Senate. Here’s a teaser of their today’s column:
Whatever one thinks of the outcomes, removing decisions…from the legislature threatens accountability in general, and threatens the institution of the Senate in particular. In fact, the struggles of our Senate are an example of a broader rule: legislatures that make obstruction a way of life tend to get bypassed.
Some of the best evidence for this comes not from the recent past but from ancient history — history that was familiar to our classically-educated Founders. The Senate of the ancient Roman Republic was the first legislature to use the filibuster, the first to abuse it, and the first to suffer the consequences.
One Roman senator, in particular, had a special fondness for the host of obstructionist tools scattered across Rome’s constitution: Cato the Younger, Rome’s fiercest traditionalist and the leading voice of the optimates, the Republic’s conservative elite.
- Please check out the Congressional Clerkship Initiative, begun in 2005 by 145 law school deans and now spearheaded by Georgetown Law’s Federal Legislation Clinic. From the Initiative’s website:
Article I of the U.S. Constitution establishes Congress as the federal government’s “first branch” and the primary author of federal law. Congress is, appropriately, also the branch most accountable to the people. Of the three branches, however, Congress is by far the least influential on the legal community’s constitutional perspective.
One major reason is that Congress is the least accessible to new lawyers in their formative first years: Congress lacks a program similar to the judiciary’s clerkship program, or the Honors programs at executive branch agencies.
The legal community is also missing out on the opportunity to have its rising stars learn about legislation–the bread and butter of federal legal practice–from the inside. In contrast, the consistent flow of lawyers through apprenticeship programs in the courts and executive branch agencies has given the legal community a deep and constantly renewed grounding in judicial and administrative lawmaking.
Congress is missing out, too. Basic legal legislative work–statutory research, drafting, and analysis–often gets short shrift in busy Capitol Hill offices, reflected in shortcomings in Congress’s legal product. Congress would benefit from the fresh perspective, energy, and legal training of these temporary hires in their first years after law school, focused on the legislative branch’s legal work.
Legislation has been moving in Congress in recent years to establish a legislative law clerk program. This website provides a focal point for these efforts, and explains how you can help make this program a reality.
Authors/artists Dan Schofield and Alice DuBois “plan to illustrate all 112 justices of the Supreme Court, as well as some landmark cases.”
Indeed, Hybrid Justices appear to be on the rise lately: Art Lien spliced Scalia’s genes right inside the Court earlier this month. Talk about getting ahead of the great genetic engineering debate bound to come before the Court in October Term 2061.
Much has been made since Justice Kagan’s nomination last year of her high recusal rate this term due to her participation as Solicitor General in many cases now before the Court. This morning, however, the Court issued its latest order list that features an inversion of the usual recusal pattern for this term:
In this petition against Justice Thomas, I’m left wondering here why Justice Kagan was left the last justice standing. After all, she has sat on the bench with Justice Thomas for the better part of a term now, and the other justices appear to have taken no part in considering this petition solely on the basis of potential collegial bias.* Is there some arcane one-year rule in the Court’s internal procedures that was written for this very scenario? What would have happened if the Court received this petition next term or the term thereafter?
As for the petition itself, Petitioner Kenneth L. Smith appears to be a serial pro se litigant on a mission to oust Article III judges for violations of their good behavior tenure. This petition against Justice Thomas, then, came to the Court at an opportune time as Justice Thomas has been mired in ethics attacks for months. While I cannot find his cert. petition in Smith v. Thomas, I have found another recent brief to the Tenth Circuit against Senior Judge Stephen H. Anderson. In the brief, Smith colorfully presents his other cases against judges over the past decade:
*UPDATE: QED and Joe in the comments did the due diligence to dig up the docket listing for Smith v. Thomas at the D.C. Circuit. Turns out Smith brought suit against every sitting justice in October 2009. Therefore, the mass recusal today was not because of perceived bias in favor of the named defendant, Justice Thomas, but rather that all eight justices (and former Justice John Paul Stevens) were also defendants.
QED’s link didn’t work for me, so here’s a cached copy. And here is the District Court’s order granting the justices’ motion to dismiss. Turns out, as Joe points out below, that the suit was not an effort to remove the justices, but rather an effort to seek “a mandate from [the district court] requiring the Justices of the United States Supreme Court to hear all petitions brought to that body under a writ of error or in the alternative, a formal declaration that the Bill of Rights is null and void for want of meaningful enforcement.”
I’ve just returned from my post-bar exam trip where I spent my days, inter alia, sitting beachside with the First Lady of F1@1F while reading Michigan v. Bryant, FCC v. AT&T, and Snyder v. Phelps, and not wishing at all to trade the warm Caribbean mornings for the freezing Supreme Court sidewalk, however compelling the arguments in Alford, Bullcoming, and Al-Kidd appeared to be.
Now that I’m back, I hope to make up for my bar-induced sporadic output over the past two months. It won’t be easy: the Court will be silent for two weeks between this coming Monday’s announcement of cert. grants and perhaps a couple of opinions, and the (relative) doozies docketed for the next round of oral arguments. Still, even during such silences, there’s always something swirling around One First Street worth catching and commenting upon.