Cert Pool

The confirmation hearings for Solicitor General Elena Kagan, nominated to replace Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court, are currently scheduled to start on Monday, June 28. We will, of course, offer extensive coverage, including some liveblogging.

But most observers expect little confirmation drama — which makes sense. Elena Kagan is an eminently qualified nominee who has over the years kept herself out of trouble, personal or political. She enjoys support from a number of notable conservatives, such as Miguel Estrada and former judge Michael McConnell (both of them possible SCOTUS nominees in a Republican administration).

Just today, Vanderbilt law professor Brian Fitzpatrick — a former law clerk to Justice Scalia and a former counsel to Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) — issued an enthusiastic endorsement (PDF) of Kagan, praising her as “a person of utmost integrity, extraordinary legal talent, and relentless generosity.” Such sentiments have been heard from many conservative corners.

So, with Lady Kaga’s confirmation more or less assured, let’s start thinking about what we can expect from a Justice Elena Kagan. Specifically, how will she handle petitions for certiorari, the requests filed by litigants who want the Court to hear their cases?

In other words: Will Justice Kagan plunge into the cert pool? And should she?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Kagan and the Cert Pool: Should She Jump In?”

supreme court 1.jpgFrom the same Tony Mauro column that discussed Chief Justice Roberts’s new summer house comes this update on the SCOTUS cert pool:

[T]he Supreme Court’s two newest justices have decided, at least temporarily, to stick with the Court’s clerk-pooling arrangement…. [B]oth Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel Alito Jr. said they will stay in the “cert pool,” as it is called, for the current term.

Roberts said he will participate on a “year-to-year basis,” and Alito said the same….

The use of the certiorari pool does, by the way, increase the power of law clerks at the Court:

In a 1997 speech when he was in private practice, Roberts said he found the pool “disquieting” in that it made clerks “a bit too significant” in determining the Court’s docket. During his confirmation hearings in January, Alito said he was “aware of the issue” surrounding the pool. He added: “We cannot delegate our judicial responsibility. But . . . we need to find ways, and we do find ways, of obtaining assistance from clerks and staff, employees, so that we can deal with the large caseload that we have.”

One could quibble with Justice Alito’s description of the SCOTUS caseload as “large.” The Court hears fewer than 100 cases each Term, and the number has been decreasing over the years. And the cert pool may actually be contributing to that decline, as Lyle Denniston suggests.
But we heart Justice Alito, so we won’t quibble.
Another consequence of the pool:

In their new book on the Court’s clerks, Sorcerers’ Apprentices, authors Artemus Ward and David Weiden chart the history and impact of the pool. At the same time the pool has increased the power of clerks in the gatekeeping function, they say, it has made clerks less candid and more timid in their recommendations. “The pool writers are going to be less candid than they would be with their own justice,” says Ward in an interview. “It has a chilling effect.”

It would be interesting if another justice were to join Justice Stevens in declining to participate in the cert pool. But would that make a clerkship with that justice less desirable? Clerks to that justice would have to spend more of their time doing mind-numbing cert review work, getting down into the factual weeds of lower-court records — instead of working on the sexy, pure legal issues presented by merits cases.
Maybe there’s a collective action problem here. Who would be willing to go first? Cf. Harvard ending early admissions.
Interesting — but not our problem. Shrug.
Courtside by Tony Mauro: Pool Party [Legal Times]
Commentary: The Court’s caseload
Cert Pool [Wikipedia]