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Reimagining the Supreme Court

The October 2008 issue of the ABA Journal includes this fascinating article by Richard Brust entitled "Supreme Court 2.0," which reviews a list of proposals, ranging from extreme or fanciful to modest or commonsensical, for changing the structure and operation of the Supreme Court.  They include:

• Term Limits - When the founders provided for Justice-ship for life, they never envisioned that Justices would serve as long as they do.  But high-tech medical care, lighter caseloads and a sizeable staff of clerks has enabled today's Justices to serve an average of 26 years on the court, staying on the bench until well into their 70s.  Capping a term to 18 years would allow for enough continuity, but at the same time, keep the court fresh. Staggering the terms would give different political parties a chance to appoint new justices to the bench.

• Forced Retirement - An alternative to term limits is forced retirement, requiring Supreme Court justices to leave the bench by age 75, no matter how long they've served. Some suggest that rather than forced retirement, justices could be offered attractive retirement packages and senior status as a gentle incentive to leave. 

• Make the Supreme Court Travel - Some would like to see the Supreme Court justices ride the circuits, sitting in different parts of the country.  Circuit riding would expose the justices to the results of their decisions, and keep in touch with how lawyers practice in other parts of the country.

• Other Suggestions - Some of the remaining suggestions include adding more justices to the court, diversifying lawyers who serve on the court (currently, all are former appellate judges) and of course, allowing cameras in the courtroom.

To me, cameras in the courtroom are of paramount importance in educating both lawyers and the general public.  Even though I practice here in DC, I rarely have a chance to walk over to the Court and observe an argument -- yet, watching how top appellate lawyers argue would help me improve my own skills more than a dozen CLE courses by long-winded experts.  And the accessibility of Supreme Court arguments would also enable the public to understand our judicial system better.  But that's just my own opinion. How would you reform the Supreme Court? Post your comments below.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 25, 2008 at 04:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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