...it's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there...

September 04, 2005

William Rhenchrist, RIP

Another Supreme Court Justice gone, another chance for a lazy blogger to recycle an old post. Remember my Guide to the Supreme Court?

Posted by annika, Sep. 4, 2005 | TrackBack (1)
Rubric: Legal Mumbo Jumbo


Classics are worth revisiting. These are interesting times.

Posted by: Casca on Sep. 4, 2005

My prediction: Annie will graduate Law School somehow, despite her proclivity for wasting time thinking up outrageously funny stuff, and get a job with one of the legal newspapers writing a column that will be loved and admired by every lawyer in California.

She will never actually practice law, but she will neatly puncture the balloons of all the self important lawyers and judges in the state.

Now tell us, Annie, just who will be the next Chief Justice of the United States? (Actually, that is the correct title, whereas, the other justices are just Justices of the Supreme Court)

Posted by: shelly on Sep. 4, 2005

The correct response is: "Who is Antonin Scalia."

Posted by: annika on Sep. 4, 2005

Could be, but that's CW, and I'd bet for W to go against the CW. Didn't LBJ try to make his drinking buddy CJ?

Posted by: Casca on Sep. 4, 2005

How much power does the chief justice wield? IANAL, obviously, but I didn't think the chief justice really does enough to matter.

Posted by: Trevor on Sep. 4, 2005

Trevor, the Chief is a little bit more than simply first-among-equals on the Court, but the real significance of the job is actually WHY it's "Chief Justice of the United States," and not just "of the Supreme Court." The CJ is the head of the entire federal judiciary, and no Chief recognized this more than did Rehnquist. He (or she, as perhaps the President will make up for his father's mistake in appointing Souter rather than Eith Jones) has powers and responsibilities off the Court, through chairing the Judicial Conference of the United States and supervising the Administrative Office of the US Courts (whose director answers to the Chief alone, not to the Court as a whole).

That may sound like a lot of bureaucrat-ese, but it's not nothing. Moreover, Rehnquist made fairly regular appearnces before Congress to advocate on behalf of the courts (particularly regarding funding), establishing as no Chief had before that the job is also something of the federal judiciary's top lobbyist. That's more on the level of influence than raw power, but again, it's not nothing either, and distinguishes the office from what the associate justices do.

Posted by: Dave J on Sep. 4, 2005

Dave's right as far as he goes, but he left out a couple of important features of the job:

1. The justices discuss cases in a rigid protocol order, Chief speaking first, then by seniority, newest last. But they vote in the opposite order, giving the Chief a real advantage.

2. More importantly, the Chief assigns opinions, and Chiefs have done so as to be punitive to those who do not play ball. There are many dry, unread opinions involving boring tax and corporate matters that are read only by a few vested stodgy types, and there are really juicy ones for which everyone would like to write the majority opinion for posterity. Piss off the Chief, and you can get the former. Warren Burger was famous for doing this, and reserving the juicy ones for himself. Rhenquist was much more generous.

OK, my best guess is Gonzales for Chief. Scalia would be best, but then Bush has three fights instead of two. Iraq and New Orleans are taking their tolls on his political checkbook and he is dangerously close to being a lame duck.

We need a winner, so look for some smart stuff in the appoinments or a Constitution in Iraq.

New Orleans is resolving itself OK for Bush, despite the lame try to shift blame by the Mayor and Governor.

Posted by: shelly on Sep. 5, 2005

And Roberts it is. Clearly this fellow is an excellent choice in all respects.

Posted by: Casca on Sep. 5, 2005

Here's one for the law students to research:

If confirmed, will Roberts, the newest member, (despite being Chief) still have to hold the door for the other justices?

Actually, it wouldn't be for long, as there will be another junior to him in short order, but there must be precedent, as Earl Warren was appointed directly to Chief, and I'm sure there were others.

Posted by: shelly on Sep. 5, 2005

Shelly, most Chiefs were appointed from off the Court; elevating Associate Justices to Chief Justice has been the exception, not the rule. And I would guess Roberts would not have to be the doorkeeper, as the Chief is senior to all the Associate Justices. So it'd still be Breyer until O'Connor's seat is filled. But I wouldn't say I'm 100% certain about it.

Trivia question: which Chief Justice had previously been an Associate Justice, but was off the Court in between?

Posted by: Dave J on Sep. 5, 2005

i'll take a stab at it. William H. Taft?

Posted by: annika on Sep. 5, 2005

I've got a trivia question for you. Which Associate Justice gets his ass thumped in the cloak room every October? He's going to get a couple extra lumps this year. I'm reliably informed that a bar of soap inside of a towel, and swung like a mace is the preferred method of battery.

Posted by: Casca on Sep. 5, 2005

Boy, I hope it is that asshole Souter.

Many have disappointed, but none so regularly and so extremely as he.

A pox on his house; I hope the state takes it to make public restrooms for the beach.

Posted by: shelly on Sep. 5, 2005

It's not Taft. He was, of course, President before being Chief Justice (and just as much a non-entity at both jobs, though he did get the Court its own building).

David Souter is the most prominent and enduring part of the largely disgraceful and embarassing legacy of John Sununu, whom the current president's father relied far too much upon at the time. Playing local New Hampshire politics with a US Supreme Court seat was beyond stupid, but Sununu had been the governor before he became White House Chief of Staff and, as far as I understand it, this was part of some deal between him and Warren Rudman, Senator at the time and before that NH's AG (with, surprise, David Souter as his Deputy AG and then his successor).

Posted by: Dave J on Sep. 5, 2005

Actually, it wa Rudman who vouched for Souter and staked his career on him. He lost.

Because of Souter, Rudman declined to run in the next election, knowing that he would get ZERO support from anyone on the right.

Souter simply "did him in" in royal style.

Be careful about those whom you recommend...

Posted by: shelly on Sep. 6, 2005

Oh, and BTW, the answer was Charles Evans Hughes, who seems to have been pretty much everywhere during the first half of the 20th century.

Posted by: Dave J on Sep. 7, 2005