John Paul Stevens

supreme court full frontal Above the Law.jpgWe meant to write about this yesterday: Ayers v. Belmontes, the death penalty case in which a closely divided Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit. The opinion was handed down on Monday. It was the first opinion of the Term, and it was an unusual first opinion.
The typical first opinion of the Term is some unanimous, per curiam opinion about some soporific statutory issue (often written by Justice Ginsburg). But Ayers v. Belmontes was a signed opinion (by Justice Kennedy), in a death penalty case, reflecting a 5-4 vote. Interesting.
A possible explanation, from the Queen Bee of the SCOTUS Press Corps, Linda Greenhouse:

No one at the court on Monday could remember a term that began with a 5-to-4 decision. But while this decision might, on the surface, suggest that the current court is on the way toward setting a record for internal division, that is not necessarily the case. A more likely explanation is that much of the majority opinion was in fact drafted last spring, before the court agreed to hear California’s appeal.

The entry on the court’s public docket shows that while the state’s appeal was pending the justices discussed it nine times at closed-door conferences. With cases typically being discussed only once or twice, if at all, nine is an unusually high number. It suggests that a group of justices was trying to win majority support for an opinion that would decide the case summarily, without argument or further briefing.

The failure of such an effort typically results in a compromise decision to accept the case for argument, with much of the opinion already having been drafted.

In other words: Ayers v. Belmontes could have been a standard-issue, summary reversal of the Ninth Circuit; but the votes weren’t there. So the benchslap-in-the-making was quickly converted into a majority opinion for a divided Court. (But props to Justice Stevens for cranking out his dissent with such speed.)
Also, the case features the coolest name ever for a jury member: “Juror Hailstone.”
Justices Uphold a Death Sentence Twice Overturned [New York Times]
Ayers v. Belmontes [Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School]

Shakira Above the Law Legal Tabloid Nude Pictures Naked Pictures Nude Pics Shakira Shakira Shakira.JPG* The Democrats are in the House — and Senate, too. Say hello to the new chairmen of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. (And goodbye to Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.)
* It was a big week for politics — and celebrity divorces. Parting ways: Britney Spears and Kevin Federline.
* Dewey Ballantine + Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe = Sexytime!!!
* Hit movie Borat + Two dumbass frat boys = Lexytime!!!
* “Shake-It-Like-Shakira” contest + Drunken Jersey girl = More Lexytime!!!
* Rumors of Justice Stevens’s retirement: Greatly exaggerated? Or for real this time around?
* Speaking of the SCOTUS, here’s a fun fact: “It is unlawful to… make a harangue or oration… in the Supreme Court Building.”
* For the record, onetime Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork “doesn’t go seducing women at a convent.”
* News flash: Your friends who went into investment banking make WAY WAY WAY more money than you. (Unless you’re a new Wachtell Lipton partner, in which case they make WAY more money than you.)

Justice John Paul Stevens Above the Law.jpgRumors that Justice John Paul Stevens is about to step down from the Supreme Court are a recurring feature of the legal gossip landscape. As we previously observed, JPS retirement rumors “return each spring, with the birds and the flowers.”
But hey, we’re good sports, so we’ll blog about them. ‘Cause one of these days, they might actually turn out to be true — and we wouldn’t want to be caught flat-footed. (Our personal view, though, is that Justice Stevens will leave the Court as the late Chief Justice Rehnquist did — through death, not retirement.)
Anyway, here’s the latest gossip. Per Sean Rushton, executive director of the Committee for Justice, and an active participant in judicial confirmation battles:

For the past several weeks, there has been a rumor circulating among high-level officials in Washington, D.C., that a member of the U.S. Supreme Court has received grave medical news and will announce his or her retirement by year’s end. While such rumors are not unusual in the nation’s capital, this one comes from credible sources. Additionally, a less credible but still noteworthy post last week at the liberal Democratic Underground blog says, “Send your good vibes to Justice Stevens. I just got off the phone with a friend of his family and right now he is very ill and at 86 years old that is not good.”

Rushton’s rumor was picked up over at Confirm Them.
If Justice Stevens does resign from the Court, who might fill his robes? U.S. News’s Washington Whispers column offers this intelligence:

President Bush isn’t looking very far for his next conservative pick to the U.S. Supreme Court: His top two candidates work just 12 blocks away in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Insiders say Judge Janice Rogers Brown, appointed in June 2005, tops the list, followed by Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, appointed in May.

Also up: Peter Keisler, whose nomination to the D.C. court is pending. So there’s no vacancy, you say? With apologies to Justice John Paul Stevens, 86, it’s his seat they hope to fill.

As ATL readers know, we love ourselves some Janice Rogers Brown. But would this outspoken, conservative judicial diva be able to make it through a Democrat-controlled Senate? The same goes for Brett Kavanaugh, whom Senator Chuck Schumer once described as “the Zelig of young Republican lawyers.”
Maureen Mahoney Maureen E Mahoney Above the Law Supreme Court.jpgSo we’d be interested in your views on a question that a (clearly conservative) reader sent to us earlier today:

How about a piece on SCOTUS candidates Bush could get through the Senate now that it’s controlled by Communists?

(Now now, dear reader, conservatives are trying to play NICE with Nancy Pelosi and her pals. No name calling.)
One obvious response: Maureen Mahoney (above right). We previously wrote about Mahoney in great detail over here. We expressed concerns over whether she would be perceived as conservative enough to secure the nomination. But in a Senate controlled by Democrats, being a moderate conservative — as opposed to a hardline one — would be a plus.
Thoughts?
Update: Lots of interesting names in the comments.
The Rumor About John Paul Stevens [Human Events]
Talking About Judge Brown [Confirm Them]
Another Reason to Go GOP [Confirm Them]
Washington Whispers [U.S. News and World Report]
Maureen Mahoney: “The Female John Roberts”? [Underneath Their Robes]

supreme court 2006.jpgYou may recall our recent Above the Law reader polls for Most Favorite Supreme Court Justice and Least Favorite Supreme Court Justice. The results of those polls are available here and here, respectively.
One of you had an interesting suggestion: Combine the results of the two polls to generate “net popularity scores” for the justices. These scores, combining measures of how much each justice is liked and disliked, could be viewed as measuring “overall” popularity.
We thought it would be interesting to see the results, so we went ahead and did this. We took the percentage of the vote each justice received in the “Most Favorite” poll, then subtracted from it the percentage of the vote received in the “Least Favorite” poll. We labeled the result the justice’s “Net Popularity Score” (NPS).
Here are the results of this number-crunching, with the justices ranked by NPS, from highest to lowest:
net popularity score 2.jpg
A few quick thoughts:
1. The rankings strike us as decent measures of overall popularity. Two of the top three finishers are favorites of their respective ideological wings. Justice Scalia, a cult figure among conservatives, comes in first; Justice Stevens, a hero of the liberals, places third.
2. The Chief is like Sara Lee: Nobody doesn’t like him. He got zero percent of the votes in the “Least Favorite” poll (just 24 votes out of 6,290). And, presumably due to his good looks and great resume — since he doesn’t have many opinions to be judged by yet — he won 16 percent of the “Most Favorite” vote. This gave him an NPS of 16, almost enough to beat Nino.
3. The next three justices — Justices Breyer, Thomas, and Alito — have net popularity scores close to zero. This makes sense too: as jurists, they don’t excite grand passion (even if Justice Thomas, prior to his confirmation, was a controversial figure).
4. Justice Alito, a fairly low-key personality, earns a “perfect” score of zero. Two percent of voters picked him as their favorite; two percent picked him as their least favorite. He’s like The Justice Who Wasn’t There (although, in fairness to Justice Alito, he’s too new to the bench to have made many enemies or fans).
5. Three justices have negative net popularity scores: Justices Kennedy, Souter, and Ginsburg. Their negative scores may have been affected by the fact that the voter pool in the “Least Favorite Justice” pool skewed to the right (thanks in large part to an Instapundit link).
6. As for why Justice Ginsburg attracted such a high percentage of the “least favorite” votes, Ann Althouse — and her commenters — have some interesting thoughts on the matter.
Earlier: ATL Poll Results: Your LEAST Favorite Supreme Court Justice
ATL Poll Results: Your Favorite Supreme Court Justice

After finding out your Favorite Supreme Court Justice (answer: Justice Scalia), we asked about your LEAST Favorite Supreme Court justice. And the result was surprising, at least to us.
Voter turnout was massive, with over 6,000 votes cast. Maybe everyone’s in a voting frame of mind, with Election Day so close. Here’s how you voted:
least favorite supreme court justice poll results.JPG
The “winner”: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with a whopping 40 percent of ballots cast. Second place went to Justice David H. Souter, with 19 percent of the vote.
Thank you to the voters — all 6,000 of you. And thanks to everyone who linked to the poll, especially Glenn Reynolds, Ann Althouse, and Jason Harrow (of SCOTUSblog).
We have a few cursory observations on these results, which appear after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “ATL Poll Results: Your LEAST Favorite Supreme Court Justice”

supreme court 2006.jpgNot much explanation required. This is just the flip-side of our recently concluded Favorite Supreme Court Justice poll (in which Justice Scalia easily prevailed).
Now we want to learn which of the Nine Robed Ones is your LEAST favorite jurist.
We’ll keep the polls open until we get at least 1,000 responses, so that the result can be viewed as a fairly reliable indicator of ATL reader sentiment. Here’s the poll:

Who is your LEAST favorite U.S. Supreme Court justice?
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.
Justice John Paul Stevens
Justice Antonin Scalia
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy
Justice David H. Souter
Justice Clarence Thomas
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Justice Stephen G. Breyer
Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.
  
Free polls from Pollhost.com


Please cast your vote, and spread the word to others who might be interested. Thanks!
Earlier: ATL Poll Results: Your Favorite Supreme Court Justice

Last Friday, we asked you to vote for your Favorite Supreme Court Justice.
Over 1,300 votes were cast. Here are the results:
favorite supreme court justice poll results.JPG
Interesting! Thanks to everyone who participated in the poll. And thanks to SCOTUSblog and Professor Althouse for linking to the poll, which generated many votes.
Update: Vote for your LEAST favorite Supreme Court justice by clicking here.
Our random observations on the results, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “ATL Poll Results: Your Favorite Supreme Court Justice”

This is NOT an official ATL contest. We won’t offer any commentary on the candidates, to keep the proceedings objective. This is simply a random Friday poll that we’re conducting for our own curiosity.
Readers of this site are generally interested in, and highly knowledgeable about, the United States Supreme Court. Many of you might be called “legal nerds” or “judicial groupies” (both of which we view as badges of honor).
So while we have you all here, we thought we’d ask:
supreme court 2006.jpg

Who is your favorite U.S. Supreme Court justice?
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.
Justice John Paul Stevens
Justice Antonin Scalia
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy
Justice David H. Souter
Justice Clarence Thomas
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Justice Stephen G. Breyer
Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.
  
Free polls from Pollhost.com


We know that such online polls have been conducted previously. See, e.g., here. And we have seen articles in which legal experts are asked to name their favorite member of the SCOTUS. See, e.g., here.
But we haven’t seen such polls or articles for the Court as currently constituted, i.e., after the appointements of Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito. So we thought we’d run such a poll and see what results we get.
Please cast your vote, so this tally will be as accurate a representation of ATL reader opinion as possible. Thanks!

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
[SCOTUSblog]
Cert Pool [Wikipedia]

Okay, look, we get it. Given that Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is now the swing vote on the Supreme Court, how long he will remain on the Court — and his health, which obviously affects the length of his tenure — is of critical importance.
But we still found it odd that the Washington Post decided to throw AMK’s ideology into its subhed:
justice kennedy heart headlne.JPG
That got us thinking — would they do the same if, say, Justice Scalia underwent the same procedure?
justice scalia heart headline.JPG
Or what about Justice Stevens?
justice stevens heart headline.JPG
(Being a copy editor is such a thankless task. If you do a good job, nobody notices; if you make a mistake, everyone makes fun of you.)
Justice Kennedy Has Stent Implanted [Washington Post]

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