Monday, July 11, 2005

How about a non-lawyer?

Just thinking out loud here...

Is there any reason, other than political expediency, that Supreme Court justices should be lawyers? Would it kill us to have, for example, a philosopher? A businessman? A farmer? A poet? A politician (OK, we have some of those, but aren't they lawyers anyway?)?

The more I consider the issue, the more I think it would be wiser to have most Supreme Court justices not be lawyers, but instead be from a broader spectrum of fields advised, if need be, by a staff of clerks who are lawyers.

In limiting potential justices to lawyers, aren't we guaranteeing that the Court will lack the competence to rule on issues involving ethics, economics, politics, medicine, religion, etc? It seems to me that we need either to restrict the number lawyers in the Supreme Court, or restrict the effects of its rulings beyond a very narrowly-defined arena.

In the interest of full-disclosure, I myself am not currently a candidate for SCotUS, but if asked, I will serve.


  1. Anonymous9:24 PM

    Good Dr.: Inasmuch as I myself am a lawyer, you must consider the source.

    If we operated on a civil law system, where each case is decided on its own merits without much if any influence by previous case law, your suggestion would be very well taken. I would even support it, as many of the farmers, poets, clerics, teachers and so forth that I know well have a great deal more sense than I sometimes see coming out of our Supreme Court. However. . .

    As I'm sure you know, because we are set up to operate on a common law system, precedent and stare decisis is very important, indeed, crucial. Navigating through 200 years of case law to arrive at a decision in a particular case is rather difficult, especially when you get to the Supreme Court level, where every case has Constitutional implications. Throw into that the fact that whatever decision you make will govern umpteen thousands of other lawsuits for years or decades to come, and it becomes clear that some amount of training in these things is desireable. As a lawyer, I realize this sounds like the quintessential "leave it to us professionals" (we professionals?) defense, but there you have it; some things really do require training. As much as I love and have studied Tolkien, I will not fool myself into thinking I could begin to teach literature.

    I'm working on the apostrophes.

  2. So, I take it then that you see my point. The Court is essentially incompetent to deal with issues beyond a very narrow legal framework ... after all, if one is going to formulate a ruling on, say, the degree of religiousity in a work of art, then "some amount of training in these things is desireable."

    In other words, to twist (perhaps unfairly) your analogy, the Court fools itself into thinking it can teach Tolkien, and furthermore determines who will be permitted to teach Tolkien, which texts, in what capacity, in what spaces, etc. The "teaching literature" analogy doesn't quite work because the Court doesn't just "practice law." I would agree that one should have training in the law to be a lawyer, but that isn't really the issue at hand.

    I would agree that some with training in law are needed on the Court (obviously), but beyond a justice or two and a full slate of lawyers on staff, I don't see any benefit to having only lawyers ... yet I see a lot of harm.

    Would you object to *any* justice who was not a lawyer? Perhaps an ethicist? A philosopher? Perhaps an American historian?

  3. Anonymous6:34 AM

    Am responding over at Pros and Cons.

    By the way, how about a trackback option. You should get credit for the links.

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