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Supreme Court Justices On How New Justices Change The Court

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How do Supreme Court Justices handle a shakeup on the bench?

With news that Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is planning to retire this summer speculation abounds about who President Obama will nominate, but C-SPAN provides an inside look into how the justices, themselves, react to new members of the Supreme Court.

The network collected the following quotes as part of their "Supreme Court: Home to America's Highest Court" which aired back in October:



Chief Justice Roberts:

"To some extent, it's unsettling. You quickly get to view the Court as - the Court as composed of these members, and it becomes kind of hard to think of it as involving anyone else. I suspect it's like people look at their families. You know, this is the family how could it, you know, be different. But you do get new arrivals in both of those situations. It's a tremendous sense of loss.

"Justice White always used to say, 'When the Court gets a new member, it changes everything.' Changes everybody, simple changes. We move the seats around in the Court room. The seats are by order of seniority, so there will be a shift there, same in the conference room. But more fundamentally, I think, it can cause you to take a fresh look at how things are decided. The new member is going to have a particular view about how issues should be addressed that may be very different from what we've been following for sometime. So it's an exciting part of life at the Court. "

Justice Kennedy:

"It's a new court. When I was trying jury cases, which is usually 12, if a juror had to be replaced because one was ill or something, I don't - it's just a different dynamic. It was a different jury. And it's the same way here. This will be a very different court.

"And it's stressful for us because we so admire our colleagues. We wonder, oh, will it ever be the same? But I have great admiration for the system. The system works. And it gives us the opportunity, again, to look at ourselves to make sure that we're doing it the right way so that the new justice will be able to take some instruction from our example if we are doing it the right way. And I'm sure a new justice can always ask the question, "Well, what are you doing this for?" Then we have to think about whether or not we should continue to do it."

Justice Alito:

C-SPAN: "We've heard often in our discussion with the Justices that the junior Justice has special privileges and responsibilities in the conference. Can you explain how that works?"

Alito: "I don't think the junior Justice has any special privileges. But the junior Justice has two duties. The first, and less onerous, is to open the door in the conference. When we meet in the conference there are no staff members present. And occasionally someone will knock on the door. It's the job of the junior Justice to get up and answer the door. And usually it's somebody's glasses or a memo or something like that."

"And then the other duty is to keep the official vote of grants of cert, or decision to hold the case. When we have a conference we'll go through a long list of cases and we'll vote on whether we're going to take the case or deny it or do something else. And it's the junior Justice's responsibility again, since there no staff present, to keep the official vote."

C-SPAN: "And what about the way Justices speak in conference? I understand it's seniority to the most junior. And is that an advantage or disadvantage?"

Alito: "Well, I think it's a disadvantage to the junior Justice because by the time he or she speaks everybody else has spoken and voted. So when I was the junior, which has been up until now, by the time they got to me, I was either irrelevant or I was very important depending on how the vote had come out."

Justice Ginsburg:

C-SPAN: "So a new Justice comes to this court and they come to you and they sit in your office and say tell me what I should know about this court that'll make it a better experience. What do you tell them?"

Ginsburg: "I would say you will be surprised by the high level of collegiality here. This term, I think we divided five-to-four in almost one-third of all the cases. One might get a false impression on that degree of disagreement. Justice Scalia once commented that in his early years on this court, there was no Justice with whom he disagreed more often than Justice Brennan. And yet Justice Scalia considered Justice Brennan his best friend on the Court at that time and he thought the feeling was reciprocated. The public wouldn't know that from reading an opinion by Brennan, a descent by Scalia, or the other way around, but these were two men who genuinely liked each other and enjoyed each other's company."

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