“Success” on the Supreme Court: Do We Know It When We See It?

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5 Responses

  1. dave hoffman says:

    Another consideration. Appellate judging develops (arguably) the discipline of restraint and following precedent. The Supreme Court, by contrast, is a political institution that isn’t so constrained. So, arguably, appellate judging doesn’t actually train the prospective justice in the mission critical task.
    More generally, I think you may overstate the degree to which being a Supreme Court Justice requires preparation into a “numerous array of legal questions.” Unlike judges at other levels – and, heck, lawyers – Justices see issues that are finely honed by terrific advocates. The best possible arguments are presented; all contingencies foreseen. What’s left is cutting bait.

  2. Jimbino says:

    What we have and have had on SCOTUS are a bunch of lawyers trained in wishy-washy subjects like English, History, Poly Sci, Foreign Affairs and Government. None, with the possible exception of Breyer, has ever shown any erudition or sophistication in Economics, Science or Math.

    The ability to think like a lawyer is no substitute for their inability to handle economics, scientific analysis or mathematical logic, statistics, and probability theory.

    Darwin help us if we continue to be ruled by POTUS, COTUS and SCOTUS types who have studiously avoided anything substantial beyond Baby Math, Baby Science and Econ 101.

    Where are the erudite Margaret Thatchers or Angela Merkels in our leadership?

  3. Logan Roise says:


    I have an issue with using “Consistency” and “Steering a Middle Course” as variables in determining a successful justice.

    In regard to consistency, a justice could be consistently horrible or consistently great. Of course most would hope a justice is consistent in their judicial philosophy but it’s probably not the best variable in trying to determine the level of success of a justice. You could maybe argue that you could combine consistency into each of the other variables (i.e. opinions are consistently objective in legal reasoning, justice is consistently a coalition builder, etc). Not to mention the level of subjectivity that could be brought into this variable by itself. For example, if Justice X has an originalist judicial philosophy but voted with the majority in Citizens United, has Justice X been consistent with his/her judicial philosophy? Well, if I lean to the left (which I personally do) I might argue that the founders never intended for the freedom of speech to apply to corporations or labor unions. Where as an individual that leans to the right would maybe argue that the opinion was consistent with an originalist philosophy because the founders intended for a robust protection of the freedom of speech (along the lines of Black).

    “Steering a Middle Course” is also problematic in determining the successfulness of a justice because it assumes that steering a middle course is a good thing. Thus, a bias is built into the model.

    In all, it’s impossible for a broad consensus to be made about what constitutes a successful justice. It might be possible for different factions of judicial philosophies to come up with an equation but with the level of subjectivity involved, success is almost impossible to determine at a broader level.

  4. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Great post and synthesis of the elements. The good news, under the test: there are many thousands of well-qualified people in the country who could succeed as Associate Justice.

  5. Miles Griffith says:

    I think each of the aforementioned justices have there own unique facets which purport jurisprudence elaborately and unscrupulously.