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"Only two things are infinite--the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." Albert Einstein

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Working up the ladder

Unless you've been living under a rock lately, I'm sure you're aware that President Bush has nominated John Roberts to replace retiring Judge Sandra Day O'Connor.  Now, I'm not going to get into the politics and such of whether or not I feel Roberts is a good choice.  I usually try to stay away from political "debates" on my blog, because they invariably deteriorate into arguments and name-calling. 

But, something caught my attention that I found rather curious.  I noticed that Mr. Roberts' only judicial experience (i.e., being a juror/judge) has been serving the past 2 years in the US Court of Appeals.  Two years.  That's it.  Before that, he was a lawyer.  Just a lawyer (no offense to you lawyerly types out there--not trying to sound like I'm demeaning your profession).

Now, call me crazy, but I had always been under the impression that Supreme Court Justices were always well seasoned, experienced jurors.  I figured that on their way to the SCotUS, they served as justices in Superior Courts, maybe State Supreme Courts, and of course the US Courts of Appeals for a good number of years.  It just kinda made sense to me that we'd want people with tons of experience weighing both sides of an issue and making a decision, rather than just experience arguing one side or the other.

Quite honestly, this was something that concerned me a bit about Roberts.  Especially when I started hearing more commentators say such things as (paraphrasing) "You can't use his record as a lawyer as a basis for determining his stance on issues, because in that role he's simply doing the job he was paid to do, not necessarily supporting the issue itself on a personal level."  Now, leaving the whole "huh?" part of that statement out (IMO, a lawyer shouldn't be taking a case if he doesn't support his clients and their contention--otherwise, he's just being a greedy s.o.b. with no ethics--again, just my opinion), it made wonder how the people making this comment suggested we gauge Roberts' record.  After all, his record as a judge is a mere 2 years . . . hardly enough to form a record on which to determine if he was good Supreme Court material, right?

Then I decided to take a look at the "resumes" of our current Supreme Court.  And I found it somewhat interesting.  Justices Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer have the kinds records that I was expecting, each serving 12-14 years as judges at various levels.  Stevens' and O'Connor's records are a bit lighter, but still sufficiently long, I suppose, at 5 & 7 years, respectively.  But Scalia and Thomas have surprisingly short records as pre-SC justices . . . 4 years for Scalia, and a mere 1 year for Thomas.  The biggest shocker, really, was Chief Justice Rehnquist, who didn't serve a single day as a judge before being appointed to the SCotUS.

So I guess my worry about Roberts not having enough experience isn't all that justified, since it's not that uncommon.  But it does make me wonder if there shouldn't be some kind of "judicial ladder" or somesuch.  Personally, I think I'd feel better having a new SC Justice appointed who had 7-10 years of experience deciding and presiding over cases.  Then again, a lawyer who argues cases frequently before the SCotUS probably has a better understanding of Constitutional law than a Superior Court Judge.

Anyway, was wondering what some of you others thought.  Should there be a sort of "minimum years experience" as a judge before qualifying as a Supreme Court nominee?  If so, what's reasonable?  10 years?  7?  5?  Should all of those years be served at the US Court of Appeals level, or should it include time served at the State Supreme Court and Superior Court levels?  Does it really matter?

Posted at 7/27/2005 7:14:38 am by PhilM

July 28, 2005   08:48 AM PDT
Mandy: To clarify . . . I understand that lawyers take on cases that they may not agree with from an ethical/moral standpoint, but must in order to uphold our legal system. But when discussing cases that are argued before the Supreme Court, it's a little different matter. It's not (at least not usually) a situation where the lawyer is defending a specific individual in a specific circumstance, nor is it a case of morally objecting to a client's actions but supporting their legal right to it. In SC cases, the argument is about the very Constitutional right of their client. If a lawyer believes his client has no Constitutional right to something, then how can he/she possibly argue for the client? To do so would be to betray the very foundation of the legal system they are supposed to be upholding.

But, leaving that aside for the moment, if you agree with the claim that a lawyer's record can not be used to reliably gauge his/her stance on Constitutional issues, then would you not agree that it is even more important to select a SC justice who has bench experience? For how else is it possible to determine IF this person has the capability to properly comprehend and analyze the law? To weigh the issues and come to the proper LEGAL conclusion? How do we know whether or not this particular person is truly capable of comprending the law and not simply twisting/exploiting it to his/her own ends? How do we know whether the lawyer who defends a car theif really believes car theft is okay, or if he's just defending his client out of need?
July 27, 2005   09:57 AM PDT
A supreme court justice doesn't even require any judicial experience, just the knowlege of the constitution. So anyone who's been to law school is technically qualified.
July 27, 2005   08:50 AM PDT
I agree, I think there should be a minimum years experience requirement! I don't know this guy they've put in there and the press is dubious at best at presenting unbiased facts... I'm sick of having my fate in the hands of people I don't know anything about.

Love your new format btw...
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