Sunday, February 04, 2007

Supreme Consensus

This article reports that Justice Roberts, once again, stated that he wants the Supreme Court to act with fewer dissenting or concurring views. In order to get this result he suggests deciding cases on narrow grounds. He argues that this will give the Court more respect as an institution.

I disagree. First, I disagree with the premise that the public is concerned with concurring or dissenting opinions. And with respect to the cases the public is concerned with, each justice is unlikely to bend to Roberts' desires.

Second, even if individual justices suppressing their views did bring the Court more prestige, it is not a worthwhile goal. Deciding matters in secret and only letting the public know party of the reason why a case was decided the way it was doesn't increase my respect for the institution. Each justice is still a human with their own opinions on how a case should turn out. Lying or hiding those opinions will not change matters. At worst, the Chief Justices' approach is deceitful and should undermine people's respect for the Court.

Third, deciding things on narrow grounds to avoid dissents simply provides less information. Most people acknowledge that the Court is not there to make sure the right result occurs in each case, but to clear up legal issues for thousands of similar cases.

Fourth, strengthening the institution through Roberts' plan is synonymous with giving himself more power. He is a member of the Court, the more respect it receives the more power he wields. In addition, the Chief Justice assigns the opinions. Therefore, less dissent would give him more power in determining how the reasoning and holding of a case are written. Lower courts are often heavily influenced by the particular words chosen in an opinion. For example, if the Court mentions a number of factors influencing its conclusion or possible exceptions to a rule in passing, these factors may soon turn up as part of a "test" applied in many other cases.

The best thing the Court could do for its reputation as an institution is to not obviously decide cases based on political preference. I do not respect the justices who signed onto the opinion in Bush v. Gore. It was simply disgusting. I would also suggest more honesty and openness, not more secret conferences. Roberts has undermined respect for the Court before he was even confirmed through his "umpire" analogy. He was either being dishonest or he is not a very sophisticated thinker. He is clearly not the latter.

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