Supreme Court at Work - History

Supreme Court at Work - History


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Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is in session from the first Monday in October until June, or sometimes July. When the Court is in session, it meets on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays to hear oral arguments. Cases are generally allotted one hour for oral arguments, with each side being given equal time. Attorneys often spend the period of oral arguments answering questions from the justices. In addition, with the permission of both parties in the case, third parties may submit written arguments, which are called amicus curiae ("friend of the court"), to support the views of either side. After oral argument are heard, the Court meets to discuss the case. A vote is held and, if the court upholds the view proffered by the chief justice, then he or she assigns one of the justices to write an opinion. Otherwise, the most senior justice on the majority side handles the assignment. The court then hands down the decision. The majority opinion is always handed down, but the opinions of justices who dissent are often handed down as well. In addition, justices who agree with the decision, but not with the full majority opinion issued, often write concurring opinions. .

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History of the Supreme Court of the United States

The Judicial Branch is a history of the Supreme Court of the United States, organized by Chief Justice. The Supreme Court of the United States is the only court specifically established by the Constitution of the United States, implemented in 1789 under the Judiciary Act of 1789, the Court was to be composed of six members—though the number of justices has been nine for most of its history, this number is set by Congress, not the Constitution. The court convened for the first time on February 2, 1790. [1]


Early Days of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court was established in 1789 by Article Three of the U.S. Constitution, which also granted Congress the power to create inferior federal courts.

The Constitution permitted Congress to decide the organization of the Supreme Court, and the legislative branch first exercised this power with the Judiciary Act of 1789. The act, signed into law by President George Washington, specified that the court would be made up of six justices who would serve on the court until they died or retired.

The Supreme Court was set to first assemble on February 1, 1790 at the Merchants Exchange Building in New York City. But due to some justices’ transportation issues, the meeting had to be postponed until the next day.

Though the court had its first meeting on February 2, 1790, it didn’t actually hear any cases in its first term. The court’s early meetings were concentrated on working out organizational procedures.

The six justices handed down their first decision on August 3, 1791—just one day after the court heard arguments for the case—with West v. Barnes, an unremarkable case involving a financial dispute between a farmer and a family he owed debt to.

For more than 100 years after the foundation of the Supreme Court, the justices were required to hold circuit court twice a year in each judicial circuit𠅊 grueling duty (given the primitive travel methods at the time) that Congress formally abolished in 1891.


Supreme Court History

A simple definition of the chief justice, perhaps, but the road to defining the modern Supreme Court as the pinnacle of the American justice system has been a hard-fought and controversial journey.

With its constitutional foundations in tow, the high court has faced challenges the founding fathers could never have imagined. But it also has safeguarded many of the traditions that have helped keep it one of the most revered courts in the world.

History of the Early Court

“The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”

Thus begins Article III, Section I of the United States Constitution — the essential framework on which the U.S. Supreme Court and the federal judiciary rest. While this part of the Constitution established the Supreme Court’s basic tenets, the framers left many of the details of the high court’s exact powers to be determined by Congress and the court itself.

The federal court system was born with the Senate Judiciary Act of 1789. The act split the country into 13 judicial districts and created a corresponding network of courts and the office of U.S. attorney general. It also more clearly defined the Supreme Court as having one chief justice and five associate justices.

According to the terms of the Constitutional Convention, justices are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. A justice serves on the court for life and can only be removed through impeachment on extreme grounds such as treason, bribery or other so-called high crimes. Only one justice has ever been removed by impeachment in the court’s history to date.

President George Washington nominated Chief Justice John Jay and the five other original high court justices after signing the Judiciary Act into law. The first Supreme Court session assembled on Feb. 2, 1790 in New York City. Due to travel difficulties — and perhaps some doubt about the court’s initial importance — only three of the six justices were present for the court’s opening session and official business had to wait for a fourth justice to arrive.

In 1791, the Supreme Court relocated to Philadelphia before finally coming to rest in its permanent home of the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., in 1800.

During the court’s early years, justices were required to travel around the country and hold circuit court twice a year in each judicial district. Travel routes were difficult and it could take the judges nearly 20 hours to get from city to city. Congress decided in 1793 that one circuit trip per year would suffice, but the duty wasn’t completely abolished until the late 19th century.

The early years of the court were primarily spent organizing and determining responsibilities — many scholars consider this to be a slow and ambiguous period in the court’s history as the judiciary struggled to get off the ground. The court didn’t actually hear a case until 1792, two years into its tenure and didn’t announce a major decision until Chisolm v. Georgia in 1793.

Initially, the judiciary was considered among the weakest and most obscure of the three branches of federal government. In fact, Alexander Hamilton called the Supreme Court the “least dangerous” of the branches in No. 78 of the Federalist Papers. That perception changed in large part after the 1801 appointment of Chief Justice John Marshall.

Appointed by President John Adams, Marshall is generally credited with harnessing and defining the power of the high court in such influential decisions as Marbury v. Madison, which allowed the court to evaluate the constitutionality of congressional legislation. Of the pivotal chief justice, President Adams is quoted by the Supreme Court Historical Society as saying, “My gift of John Marshall to the people of the United States was the proudest act of my life.”

The number of Supreme Court justices has changed six times as the demands and needs of the high court grew. Congress passed an act in 1948 establishing permanently the current composition of one Chief Justice and eight associate justices as part of its responsibility to assess and change the number of justices as necessary.

Terms and Traditions

Several closely guarded traditions are key to the function and image of the Supreme Court, and they have endured over the past two centuries. Most critical of these is the ability of the court to keep a private and tightly run ship while protecting its authority over the laws that govern the American public.

In accordance with legal statute, the Supreme Court term begins every year on the first Monday in October. The term generally lasts until late June. Terms used to officially “end” once the court had resolved all its current business, but due to the unpredictable need for the court to be called into action under special circumstances, terms were extended technically through the summer until thebeginning of the next term.

The high court’s sessions are generally divided between “sittings,” during which justices hear arguments and issue decisions, and “recesses,” during which they attend to other court business while discussing and constructing opinions or dissents.

Since around 1800, the nine justices have worn traditional black judge’s robes while hearing arguments or when appearing in an official capacity representing the court. In chambers, they sit around a crescent shaped judges bench in order of seniority — chief justice in the center and the eight associate justices staggered on his right and left based on their tenure on the court. Seniority is an important tradition in the court and provides order for much of the court’s procedure and the justice’s work, including what order they vote and speak during case conferences.

Justices also participate in the traditional “conference handshake” when they assemble to enter an argument session. All justices shake hands as they gather to enter the court, a tradition established by Chief Justice Melville Fuller in the late 1800s to symbolize the cohesiveness of all the judges in the court’s purpose, despite differences they may have in ideology. Justices partake in a similar conference handshake when meeting to review petitions before the court or voting to decide cases.

In earlier times, lawyers would wear formal “morning clothes” when addressing the high court, one tradition that has ebbed in modern times. According to the Supreme Court Historical Society, only lawyers from the Department of Justice or other lawyers representing the government still follow the formal dress tradition.

White quill pens are also a signature element of the Supreme Court. They are placed on counsel tables and are a popular souvenir for attorneys that have the opportunity to address the court.

Scheduled argument sessions begin promptly at 10 a.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays with the court marshall calling, “The honorable, the chief justice and the associate justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.”

As the justices enter the court, the Marshall gives the traditional call for silence, or “Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the court is now sitting. God save the United States and this honorable court.”

Generally, two cases are heard per argument day. Since 1955 oral argument sessions have been taped to provide an audio record, but video cameras or any kind of photography is forbidden inside the courtroom.

Above all, the court’s secrecy could be considered its best-kept tradition. Of the numerous Washington government agencies, it remains virtually leak proof, with a loyal staff and tight security. Indeed the most insight into the court’s procedures come from the writings and remarks of the justices, such as the papers of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, which are considered a wealth of information on the inner workings of the court.

Choosing and Hearing Cases

The Supreme Court’s caseload has increased steadily over the decades, but the process by which justices choose which cases to hear remains uniquely their own — and is considered by some to be the most important aspect of the high court’s review process.

The court regularly receives some 7,000 cases submitted for its review, most commonly in the form of requests for “writs of certiorari,” which are petitions from one or both sides of a case asking for the high court’s review. If the court decides to accept the petition, a “writ of cert” is issued, which essentially asks the appellate court to send their records to the Supreme Court for further review. In rare cases of great public importance, the high court can issue a writ of cert even before the lower court has heard the case.

In addition to the regularly submitted petitions, the justices also receive some 1,200 applications for various types of legal action each year. Applications, which are addressed to each justice based on the federal judicial circuit they are assigned, can be acted upon individually by the justices and usually involve some type of emergency action such as a stay of execution or an urgent restraining order.

The case screening process beings with the clerk of the court who examines each petition to ensure it is in proper form to be reviewed. The case then proceeds to the court’s law clerks — four handpicked staffers per justice who are usually top law school graduates or junior staffers at prestigious law firms, chosen to assist each justice for one term. The clerks begin the task of sorting through the petitions and determining which cases fall within the court’s jurisdiction and raise questions of appropriate constitutional and legal importance to merit the justices’ review.

Most of the justices gather their clerks together to form a “cert pool” to review the petitions. This process helps the busy law clerk staff to divide among themselves the task of writing memorandums analyzing the facts of worthy petitions. These memos go on to aid the justices in their decision on how to vote on a case’s fate.

After passing through the clerks, a petition then moves to consideration by the full complement of justices. Meeting in a closed conference room, the justices discuss which cases they believe are worthy of full deliberation and then vote aloud to determine the petition’s fate.

Under the so-called “Rule of Four,” at least four justices must vote to hear the case for it to move on to the docket. The most junior justice takes handwritten notes that will go on to produce the public announcement of the court’s order on the petition.

“Whether or not to vote to grant certiorari strikes me as a rather subjective decision, made up in part of intuition and in part of legal judgment,” Chief Justice William Rehnquist writes in his book, The Supreme Court. “One factor that plays a large part with every member of the Court is whether the case sought to be reviewed has been decided differently from a very similar case coming from another lower court: If it has, its chances for being reviewed are much greater than if it hasn’t.”

Justices who disagree with a majority decision to reject a case can issue a statement expressing their viewpoint, called a “Term Opinion Relating to Orders.”

Of the more than 7,000 petitions it receives, the court generally accepts about 150 cases for full review. Some three-quarters of the decisions on those cases are issued as fully published opinions.

“Most high courts in other nations do not have discretion, such as we enjoy, in selecting the cases that the high court reviews. Our court is virtually alone in the amount of discretion it has,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said in an interview with three Cardozo University law professors in 2000.

“We are constantly grateful that Congress has seen fit to give the court that amount of discretion. We would drown in cases otherwise — cases that neither warrant nor merit the attention of the nine-member court,” O’Connor added.

Cases that are accepted for full court deliberation are next scheduled for oral arguments. Lawyers for each side of the case are given a strict 30-minute time limit during which to address the justices. Generally, the attorneys can expect direct and constant questions throughout their appearance before the high court. For most attorneys, addressing the Supreme Court is considered a major career distinction.

For the most part, oral arguments are considered a crucial stage of the process. In the book “The Supreme Court at Work” by Joan Biskupic and Elder Witt, the late Justice William Brennan is quoted as saying, “Oral argument is the absolute indispensable ingredient of appellate advocacy. … Often my whole notion of what a case is about crystallizes at oral argument. This happens even though I read the briefs before oral argument.”

The Decision Process

After the Supreme Court’s nine justices hear oral arguments, the decision process begins behind the closed doors of conference rooms.

The justices typically meet on Wednesdays and Fridays to vote on cases heard that week as well as consider new motions or petitions. Only justices attend these closed meetings, and the most junior justice will send for needed materials and take notes as necessary.

After voting, the most senior justice in the majority is responsible for deciding who will write the court’s opinion while the most senior justice on the minority side will also assign the dissent writer. In some cases, individual justices choose to add their own statements explaining why they voted for either viewpoint or express their disagreements with the way the majority opinion was written. But it is solely the majority opinion that will represent the decision of the court.

In his book, “The Supreme Court,” Chief Justice William Rehnquist explains the decision process: “Each member of the Court has done such work as he deems necessary to arrive at his own views before coming into the conference it is not a bull session in which off-the-cuff reactions are traded, but instead a discussion in which considered views are stated.”

For most of the justices, law clerks again play an important role in opinion drafting, conducting research and assisting at various stages of the revision process. During the process, the justices and their staffs often call upon the resources of the vast Supreme Court library, which contains more than 500,000 volumes of legal reference materials.

Justices have no timetable for when an opinion has to be issued, and they may spend months considering and honing opinions. Justices may also be pulled away to attend to other business in their assigned judicial circuit as opinions are hammered out, further lengthening the process.

Opinions and dissents are often written with great passion for their viewpoints, with justices occasionally trading barbs about each other’s views on an issue. Clashes tend to arise over individual methodologies of interpreting the Constitution coupled with differences in basic judicial ideologies.

According to court writings, justices can be swayed to one side of an argument or another as the opinion starts to take shape. Drafts are circulated as decisions evolve and a court opinion may have to be rewritten several times in order for a majority to retain all of its voters.

Assigned to write the majority opinion in a 1990 criminal case, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote to Chief Justice Rehnquist: “Dear Chief: Having been a specialist in converting draft majority opinions into dissents since my first term on the court, I can assure you that I will produce a draft with all deliberate speed.”

True to form, Stevens ultimately wound up in the dissent on the case, according to The Washington Post.

After all revisions and corrections are complete, a master proof is sent for printing under tight security. When the opinion is released, the court’s reporter of decisions writes a short summary, called “syllabus,” to encapsulate the opinions.

Justices will then briefly appear in the courtroom to announce the court’s opinion, occasionally reading portions of the opinion’s text. Dissenters are also given a chance to comment, an event that can produce exciting moments in the court’s chambers if justices choose to explain their position on a case.

A full term’s worth of written opinions, including dissents and orders, can amount to as many as 5,000 pages, according to Supreme Court records. The court’s opinion on a case is final — there can be no further appeals or exceptions, although issues sometimes return to the high court years later, where new justices may offer a different ruling on the same matter.


US Supreme Court blocks child slavery lawsuit against chocolate firms

The US Supreme Court has ruled food giants Nestlé USA and Cargill can't be sued for child slavery on African farms from where they buy their cocoa.

Six African men alleged that they were trafficked from Mali and forced to work on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast.

The group say both companies perpetuated that slave trade to keep cocoa prices low.

The court ruled 8-1 that the group had no standing because the abuse happened outside the US.

But it stopped short of a definitive ruling on whether the Alien Tort Act - an 18th century law - could be used to hold US companies to account for labour abuses committed in their supply chains abroad.

About 70% of the world's cocoa is produced in West Africa, and much of this is exported to America.

It's estimated that 1.56m children work on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast and Ghana, according to a report published by the US Department of Labor last year.

In their lawsuit, the group of men alleged that they were forced to work on the cocoa farms for 12-14 hours a day. They also said they were kept under armed guard while they slept, in order to prevent them from escaping, and were paid little beyond basic food.

While decrying child slavery, the companies argued the case should instead be made against the traffickers and the farmers who kept them in such conditions.

In its decision, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the court ruled that while Nestlé USA and Cargill provided the farms with technical and financial resources, there was no evidence that business decisions made in the US led to the men's forced labour.

To activists who have fought chocolate firms for years, the ruling came as a blow.

"They decided on the budgets, they decided on the planning, on the business aspects - all those things were done from the US," said Terry Collingsworth, executive director of International Rights Advocates, speaking to Fortune Magazine.

Mr Collingsworth said his legal team would file a new lawsuit, alleging that many decisions made by Nestlé and Cargill in the US helped to pave the way for the use of child slaves in Ivory Coast.

In a statement, Nestlé USA said it had never engaged in child labour and remained "unwavering in [its] dedication to combating child labour in the cocoa industry".


Catholic foster care agency wins Supreme Court verdict

WASHINGTON — In another victory for religious groups at the Supreme Court, the justices on Thursday unanimously sided with a Catholic foster care agency that says its religious views prevent it from working with same-sex couples. The court said the city of Philadelphia wrongly limited its relationship with the group as a result of the agency's policy.

The ruling was specific to the facts of the case, sidestepping bigger questions about how to balance religious freedom and anti-discrimination laws. Instead, the outcome turned on the language in the city's foster care contract. Three conservative justices would have gone much further, and LGBTQ groups said they were relieved that the decision was limited.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for a majority of the court that Catholic Social Services "seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else."

Roberts concluded that Philadelphia's refusal to "contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless it agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents . violates the First Amendment."

Roberts noted that no same-sex couple has ever asked to work with Catholic Social Services, which is affiliated with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. If that were to happen, that couple would be referred to one of the more than 20 other agencies that works with same-sex couples, Catholic Social Services has said.

"For over 50 years, CSS successfully contracted with the City to provide foster care services while holding to these beliefs," said Roberts, one of seven members of the court who is Catholic or attended Catholic schools.

Because of its beliefs, the Catholic agency also does not certify unmarried couples.

In recent years, religious groups have been delighted by victories at the court, often by wide margins. That includes cases in which the court lifted a ban on state aid to religious schooling, gave religious schools greater leeway to hire and fire teachers and allowed a cross to remain on public land. More recently, the court repeatedly sided with religious groups in fights over coronavirus restrictions.

Philadelphia learned in 2018 from a newspaper reporter that Catholic Social Services would not certify same-sex couples to become foster parents. The city has said it requires the foster care agencies it works with not to discriminate as part of their contracts. The city asked Catholic Social Services to change its policy, but the group declined.

As a result, Philadelphia stopped referring additional children to the agency. Catholic Social Services sued, but lower courts sided with Philadelphia.

In coming to the conclusion that Philadelphia had acted improperly, Roberts said the city gave Catholic Social Services a choice between "curtailing its mission or approving relationships inconsistent with its beliefs."

He also pointed to language in the city's standard foster care contract. The contract says that agencies cannot reject prospective foster or adoptive parents based on their sexual orientation "unless an exception is granted." Because the city created a process for granting exemptions, it cannot then deny Catholic Social Services an exemption, Roberts concluded.

The case's outcome was similar to a 2018 decision in which the court sided with a Colorado baker who would not make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. That decision, too, was limited to the specific facts of the case and dodged bigger issues of how to balance religious freedom and anti-discrimination laws. But the court has grown more conservative since that ruling.

In "both cases the court reached narrow, very fact-specific decisions that leave non-discrimination laws and policies standing and fully enforceable by governments," said Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union LGBTQ & HIV Project, which was involved in the case on Philadelphia's side.

Three conservative justices who joined Roberts' opinion said they would have gone further. Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch said they would have overruled a 1990 Supreme Court decision that they said improperly allows limits on religious freedom.

Alito called the court's ruling Thursday a "wisp of a decision." Gorsuch said it was an "(ir)resolution," predicting that the litigation would continue, with the city perhaps rewriting its contract.

Philadelphia City Solicitor Diana Cortes said the ruling was a "difficult and disappointing setback."

In a statement, she said the court had "usurped the City's judgment that a nondiscrimination policy is in the best interests of the children in its care." But she said the city was also "gratified" that the justices did not "radically change existing constitutional law to adopt a standard that would force court-ordered religious exemptions from civic obligations in every arena."

A lawyer with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty who argued the case on behalf of Catholic Social Services called it a "common-sense ruling in favor of religious social services."

"The Supreme Court recognized that CSS has been doing amazing work for many years and can continue that work in the city of Philadelphia," Lori Windham said.


United States Supreme Court

The highest court in the United States is the Supreme Court. It is the head of the judicial branch of the U.S. government. The judicial branch is one of the three government divisions set up by the U.S. Constitution. The other branches are the executive branch (the president) and the legislative branch (Congress).

The Supreme Court has the power to undo the decisions of lower courts. It also has the power to overturn laws that do not agree with the U.S. Constitution. Supreme Court decisions affect many people’s lives.

Justices

The nine judges on the Supreme Court are called justices. One is the chief justice. The others are associate justices. The president of the United States appoints justices, but the Senate must approve them. Once approved, a justice serves until death or retirement.

For many years all the justices were white males. In 1967 Thurgood Marshall joined the Court as the first African American justice. In 1981 Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman justice.

Cases

A few law cases go straight to the Supreme Court. These are mainly disagreements between two states. But most of the cases that the Court hears are appeals, or challenges, of cases that lower courts have already decided. Many people make appeals after losing their cases. The justices vote on which cases they will take on. Choosing which cases to hear is an important task of the Court.

When the Court hears a case, lawyers for both sides get a chance to speak. Justices often ask them questions. But there are no witnesses, and there is no jury. After hearing the case, the justices meet in private to make a decision. A majority of the justices must agree before the Court can make its decision.

One justice writes a statement called an opinion to explain the decision. Justices who disagree with the decision can write their own opinions, which are called dissenting opinions. The government publishes all opinions. Judges on lower courts use them to decide other cases.

The Court and the Constitution

The Supreme Court has the power to overturn a U.S. law or a state law that does not follow the U.S. Constitution. The Court declares such laws to be unconstitutional. This power, called judicial review, is not mentioned in the Constitution. The Court first used judicial review in 1803, in a case called Marbury vs. Madison.

A Supreme Court decision may be reversed by amending, or changing, the Constitution. For example, the 16th Amendment made income taxes legal in 1913. It undid an 1895 Supreme Court decision that such taxes were unconstitutional.

The Court may also reverse one of its own decisions. In 1896 it allowed segregation (forced separation of Blacks and whites) in public places. Then in 1954, in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, the Court ruled that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional.


This Is How FDR Tried to Pack the Supreme Court

A 1937 political cartoon with the caption &aposDo We Want A Ventriloquist Act In The Supreme Court?&apos which was a criticism of FDR&aposs New Deal, depicting President Franklin D. Roosevelt with six new judges likely to be FDR puppets.

With lifetime appointments, it’s not unusual for Supreme Court justices to serve well past the average U.S. retirement age of 63. (Ruth Bader Ginsberg died at age 87 while still serving on the court and Antonin Scalia died at age 79 while still a Supreme Court justice.)

But in the late 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to put restrictions on the court when it came to age. Largely seen as a political ploy to change the court for favorable rulings on New Deal legislation, the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937, commonly referred to as the 𠇌ourt-packing plan,” was Roosevelt’s attempt to appoint up to six additional justices to the Supreme Court for every justice older than 70 years, 6 months, who had served 10 years or more.

Dr. David B. Woolner, senior fellow and resident historian of the Roosevelt Institute and author of The Last 100 Days: FDR at War and at Peace, says it’s important to note the timing of this bill, which took place during the Great Depression. “We were in the midst of the worst economic crisis in our history,” he says. “Roosevelt’s response to this economic crisis was to engage in a series of programs designed to manage a capitalist system in such a way as to make it work for the average American. And because he wasn’t particularly ideological, he was willing to try all kinds of things.”

Over the course of the Depression, Roosevelt was pushing through legislation and, beginning in May 1935, the Supreme Court began to strike down a number of the New Deal laws. “Over the next 13 months, the court struck down more pieces of legislation than at any other time in U.S. history,” Woolner says.

Roosevelt’s first New Deal program—in particular, its centerpiece, the National Recovery Administration, along with parts of the Agricultural Adjustment Act—had been struck down by unanimous and near-unanimous votes. This frustrated Roosevelt and got him thinking about adding justices to the court, says Peter Charles Hoffer, history professor at the University of Georgia and author of The Supreme Court: An Essential HistoryWhen he won the election of 1936 in a landslide, Roosevelt decided to float the plan.

It met instant opposition.

While it was never voted on in Congress, the Supreme Court justices went public in their opposition to it. And a majority of the public never supported the bill, either, says Barbara A. Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.

𠇌ongress and the people viewed FDR’s ill-considered proposal as an undemocratic power grab,” she says. “The chief justice (Charles Evans Hughes) testified before Congress that the Court was up to date in its work, countering Roosevelt’s stated purpose that the old justices needed help with their caseload.”

“It was never realistic that this plan would pass,” Perry says. “Roosevelt badly miscalculated reverence for the Court and its independence from an overreaching president.”


Of Current Interest

Public Access to Clemency Records (May 26, 2021)
Following a review of public comments received on a proposed order concerning the confidentiality of clemency records submitted to the court by the Governor’s Office, the court today approved an administrative order outlining revised procedures for public access to these records. Under the state Constitution, the court has the responsibility to issue or withhold recommendations regarding clemency for persons twice convicted of felonies.

In Memoriam: Hon. Cruz Reynoso (May 2, 1931 – May 7, 2021) (May 25, 2021)
The Supreme Court of California will convene a special program as part of its June 2, 2021 Virtual Oral Argument session to honor Associate Justice Cruz Reynoso (February 1982 – January 1987). The program will commence immediately following oral arguments (at approximately at 11:15 a.m.) and will feature remarks from the bench and four guest speakers: former Justice Joseph R. Grodin Dean Kevin R. Johnson, U.C. Davis School of Law Mr. Luis Céspedes, Governor Newsom’s Judicial Appointments Secretary and Attorney Len ReidReynoso.

Supreme Court Names Members of Blue Ribbon Bar Exam Commission (Apr 27, 2021)
The Joint Supreme Court/State Bar Blue Ribbon Commission on the Future of the California Bar Exam will develop recommendations on whether to make changes to the California Bar Exam, and “whether to adopt alternative or additional testing or tools to ensure minimum competence to practice law."

Supreme Court clarifies citation of opinions rule (Apr 21, 2021)
The court issued Administrative Order 2021–04–21, which amends the comment to California Rules of Court, Rule 8.1115. In the future, when the court grants review of a published Court of Appeal decision, that decision’s treatment of any issue that is the subject of a split of authority among the Courts of Appeal will retain limited precedential status during review—allowing a superior court to choose to follow the review-granted decision’s approach to the issue. The order also clarifies that when the court grants review of a published Court of Appeal decision, then “vacates” the decision below and transfers the cause back to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration, the Court of Appeal’s decision will be rendered either “depublished” or “not citable,” unless the Supreme Court orders otherwise.

Court Issues Order for July 2021 Bar Exam to be Administered Online (Feb 26, 2021)
The Supreme Court of California on Friday issued an order to administer the July 2021 California Bar Examination online. The exam will take place on July 27 and 28, with the State Bar given discretion to grant in-person testing for those needing accommodations. The Supreme Court last year permanently lowered the passing score from 1440 to 1390.

Court Reappoints Two Members to the Commission on Judicial Performance (Feb 18, 2021)
The court reappointed two members to the Commission on Judicial Performance. Justice William S. Dato of the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division One (San Diego) and Trinity County Judge Michael B. Harper will both begin their new four-year terms on March 1.

Court Reappoints Three Members to State Bar Trustees Nominating Committee (Feb 18, 2021)
The court reappointed three members to the State Bar Trustees Nominating Committee (TNC), which assists the court in soliciting and evaluating potential appointees to the State Bar Board of Trustees. Members reappointed are attorneys Jamon Hicks, Jerrilyn Malana, and Chris Alan Schneider, all to three-year terms beginning Feb. 7.

Court Expands Law License Pathway for Prior Examinees (Jan 28, 2021)
The California Supreme Court on Thursday issued an order expanding the pathway to a California law license, allowing thousands more law school graduates with qualifying prior bar exam scores to work as fully licensed attorneys after completing supervised practice hours. The Provisional Licensure program will be expanded to include those who scored 1390 or higher on any California Bar Exam dating back from February 2020 to July 2015.

Applications Open for Bar Exam Commission (Nov 13, 2020)
The State Bar of California has begun recruitment for members of the Joint Supreme Court/State Bar Blue Ribbon Commission on the Future of the California Bar Exam. Applications are being accepted until November 30. For more information, visit: www.calbar.ca.gov/About-Us/Who-We-Are/Committees/Blue-Ribbon-Commission.

Court Approves Charter for Bar Exam Commission (Oct 26, 2020)
The Supreme Court of California approved a charter for the commission that will study the future of the Bar Exam, allowing the State Bar to begin recruitment for the group in November. The Joint Supreme Court/State Bar Blue Ribbon Commission on the Future of the California Bar Exam will develop recommendations “concerning whether and what changes to make to the California Bar Exam, and whether to adopt alternative or additional testing or tools to ensure minimum competence to practice law,” according to the charter.

Court Approves Provisional Licensing Program for 2020 Law School Graduates (Oct 22, 2020)
The Supreme Court of California approved a new rule creating the Provisional Licensure Program for 2020 law school graduates, after the COVID-19 health pandemic forced delay of the California Bar Examination. The court adopted Rule 9.49 of the California Rules of Court, which will take effect November 17. The program will continue until June 21, 2022 unless extended by the court.

California Supreme Court Names Jury Selection Work Group (Jul 6, 2020)
The Supreme Court of California on Monday named members to its Jury Selection Work Group to study changes or new measures to guard against impermissible discrimination in jury selection. The work group includes 11 judges and justices that represent the California Supreme Court, appellate courts and trial courts throughout the state. Over 12 to 15 months, work group members will study a broad range of topics related to jury selection, including diversity in California jury pools, changes to jury instructions and the impact of unconscious bias.

Supreme Court of California Issues Statement on Equality and Inclusion (Jun 11, 2020)
In view of recent events in our communities and through the nation, we are at an inflection point in our history. It is all too clear that the legacy of past injustices inflicted on African Americans persists powerfully and tragically to this day. Each of us has a duty to recognize there is much unfinished and essential work that must be done to make equality and inclusion an everyday reality for all. [Full statement].


The Supreme Court Has Been Expanded Many Times Before. Here Are Four Ways To Do It Today.

In today’s crowded Democratic primary season, one issue has emerged that would have been unthinkable as recently as 2016: increasing the number of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.

At least five Democratic candidates have expressed openness to expanding the Court: Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Kamala Harris as well as former Representative Beto O’Rourke and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. But while agitation for reform has increased among the Democratic base, much less ink has been spilled about the historical context of Court expansion and the concrete proposals to carry it out today.

Background of the Debate

The surge of interest in expanding the Court is unsurprising. The current 5-4 majority of Republican-appointed justices exists even though Republican candidates have lost the popular vote in six out of the past seven presidential elections. This new Court majority has shown it is willing to stir controversy while moving significantly rightward, such as in Bucklew v. Precythe, where the conservative majority gave its blessing to capital punishment that causes extraordinary pain.

We can expect this divide between popular will and Court ideology to continue, likely for decades. The oldest Republican appointee is 70 years old, whereas both Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer are over 80. The disparity may also deepen. The most recently appointed justices are part of the 5-4 conservative majority’s right-most flank.

The idea of expanding the Court has emerged as a viable and popular response, but it has generated intense debate among legal analysts and political practitioners. Some scholars have argued Court expansion would break an equilibrium in which both Republicans and Democrats respect a basic set of ground rules regarding the Court. By that logic, Democrats should do no more than accede to a “new normal” after Republicans violate longstanding norms. In response to the Republican Party’s refusal to hold a vote on President Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee, elimination of the 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees, or running of a historically partisan confirmation process for Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Democrats may adopt similar tactics but do no more.

Many others, including in the popular media, argue instead that this “constitutional hardball” has revealed that “the Supreme Court is now a partisan institution.” A leading legal academic asserts “unilateral disarmament” by Democrats in the face of this regularized norm-breaking would be tantamount to “commit[ing] political suicide.”

Expanding the Supreme Court Throughout History

The first important piece of context for the debate over expanding the Supreme Court is the U.S. Constitution. At no place does the Constitution set the number of justices that should sit on the Supreme Court. Instead, that matter is for the Congress to decide, perhaps as an intentional check by the legislature on the judiciary.

The second is the frequency of the idea and practice in American history. The Court has expanded or shrunk in size seven times throughout its history, often for clearly “political” ends.

When Chief Justice John Marshall wrote Marbury v. Madison, he sat as one of six members of the fully-staffed Supreme Court. President John Adams and a lame-duck Federalist Party congressional majority shrank the size of the Court from six to five in 1801 to limit Thomas Jefferson’s appointments to the bench. The new Democratic-Republican majority under President Jefferson quickly restored the sixth seat and expanded the Court to seven seats in 1807 when Congress created a seventh circuit court.

Congress expanded the Court from seven to nine members under Andrew Jackson in 1837. And thirty years later, during the midst of the U.S. Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln named a tenth justice to the Supreme Court, apparently motivated partly by a desire to ensure the Court would not interfere with Union war tactics.

Congress’s actions to shrink the Supreme Court from ten to seven immediately after the war were even more nakedly partisan. Congress denied President Andrew Johnson the ability to nominate justices who might oppose the congressional Reconstruction plan. President Ulysses Grant increased the Court back to nine seats after it ruled “greenback” paper currency unconstitutional, giving him two extra appointments. The newly constituted Court reheard the case and reversed.

However, the most well-known attempt to shift the size of the Court is President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1937 “court packing” plan, which would have expanded the Court to fifteen seats. While many commentators view Roosevelt’s plan as a failure, it arguably moderated the Court’s anti-New Deal rulings and thus should not be viewed dismissively.

Four Plans to Expand the Court

The first and most straightforward approach to expanding the Court is adding two, four, or six new justices to the Court. This suggestion has been advanced by Professor Michael Klarman of Harvard Law School, among others. This expansion would serve to offset the tarnished confirmations of the most recent two Supreme Court nominees, although critics of this approach, including Senator Bernie Sanders, warn it could unleash a spiral of retaliatory moves by whichever party is in power.

The second option is to reconstitute the Supreme Court in the image of a federal court of appeals. This course of action would increase the number of justices to fifteen or a similar number. Panels of justices would be drawn from this larger group, with an option of en banc review. This plan would not only dislodge the Court’s current reactionary majority, but the panel format also would allow a greater number of cases to be heard.

Third is the Supreme Court Lottery, a more aggressive version of the panel strategy. Daniel Epps and Ganesh Sitaraman have outlined this proposal in a forthcoming Yale Law Journal piece. All federal appellate court judges, roughly 180 in total, would become associate justices on the Supreme Court. Panels of nine justices would be randomly selected from this pool. Importantly, decisions on whether to grant certiorari on a given case would be made by panel members who would not know the ideological makeup of the panel that would hear the case. Thus, this plan would frustrate partisan maneuvering.

Fourth and finally is Epps and Sitaraman’s idea for a “Balanced Bench.” This proposal aims to counteract the effects of partisanship on the Court by explicitly recognizing and institutionalizing partisanship presence. The Court would have ten justices, with five seats allocated to each of the two major parties. Those ten justices would select sets of five additional justices at a time to serve a future, non-renewable one-year term. That selection would operate on a requirement of near-unanimity to ensure that this final set of five justices would be relatively even-handed. However, it is not certain how a Democratic president would fill a vacancy in a Republican seat that arose during her tenure, or how a Republican president would fill an analogous Democratic vacancy.

Whether or not one considers expansion of the Supreme Court prudent, the Court’s history of expansion and contraction should temper concerns. Similarly, the diversity of approaches to expand the Court should caution against knee-jerk opposition.

* Kurt Walters is a 1L at Harvard Law School and an Online Editor of the Harvard Law & Policy Review.


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