Whether it happens this summer or some time in the future, there will eventually be changes in the personnel of the U.S. Supreme Court. NeilRichards, former law clerk for Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and associate professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, is available to comment on the possible retirement of current Justices and the future of the Supreme Court. “Recent speculation has centered largely on the potential effect of a retirement by one of the Justices,” he says.”The course of the Court’s jurisprudence may well be at stake depending on the justice or justices who step down from the bench.”
When discussing Court appointments, Richards notes that two very important caveats are often overlooked in public discussion.
“First, labels like “conservative” and “liberal,” when applied to the jurisprudence of complex individuals like judges is usually an oversimplification of nuanced and perhaps idiosyncratic views,” he says.
“Justices are complicated people, and often don’t hew to a ‘party line.’ This means that the use of any ‘litmus tests’ like abortion or civil rights, even to established appellate judges, can tend to overemphasize one area of jurisprudence at the expense of others of equal importance.
“Second, I think virtually all of the commentary on judicial selection overlooks personal qualities at the expense of Machiavellian politics.
“For example, the current Chief Justice is almost universally admired by Court-watchers of a wide spectrum of political views because he is a good administrator, gets along with his colleagues, and does not abuse the agenda-setting privileges of his office. Not all Chief Justices, such as his predecessor Warren Burger, could have this said about them.”
Regardless of which of the justices on the Court is the next to retire, Richards hopes that some attention is paid to the ability of any nominee to get along with their colleagues, get the work done, and make sure that the Supreme Court continues to enjoy the prestige that it has earned.