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Monthly Archives: September 2010

Court clerk picks show partisan bent (access required)

Do Supreme Court justices make partisan picks when it comes to their clerks?

Yes, according to The New York Times‘ Adam Liptak.

Since Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. took the center seat on the Court’s bench in 2005, the justices have strongly tended to pick clerks who previously worked for federal judges appointed by the same party the justices were. For example, every clerk selected by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas since 2005 previously clerked for Republican-appointed federal judges (in Thomas’ case, in his 19 years on the bench, he has never selected a clerk who worked for a judges appointed by a Democrat.)

Only two of the 24 clerks that have worked for Justice Samuel Alito worked for Democratic appointees.

On the other side of the political spectrum, only four of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s last 24 clerks came from GOP-chosen judges.

Compare the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, whose clerks were split fairly evenly from judges appointed by each party.

So what does this mean?

“We are getting a composition of the clerk work force that is getting to be like the House of Representatives. Each side is putting forward only ideological purists,” said David J. Garrow, a University of Cambridge historian, who told Liptak that the Court’s clerk-hiring patterns show similarities to the political branches of government.

Thurgood Marshall is chief justice? 8 percent of Americans think so (access required)

Not only are many Americans apparently unaware that former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall passed away in 1993, but they believe he is the current chief justice.

That is according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center.

Only 28 percent of Americans surveyed correctly identified Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. from four possible names in the multiple-choice survey. What’s worse, of the four choices, only Roberts is a current justice on the Court. The other choices: Marshall, John Paul Stevens (a retired justice, if you didn’t know – he got 6 percent of the vote) and Harry Reid (who has never been on the Court – he works across the street as Senate Majority Leader. He nabbed 4 percent of the votes).

By contrast, in 1986, 43 percent of respondents could identify then Chief Justice William Rehnquist from a list of four current and former justices.

Today, Americans are much more willing to admit their lack of knowledge about who is on the bench, however. More than half – 53 percent, to be exact – admitted that they just didn’t know, compared to 16 percent in 1986.