Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Meeting Justice Kennedy

Good short reading.
Q: What’s the difference between being on the Appeals Court and the Supreme Court?

I wanted and still want to be a trial judge. I never had the political power to achieve that. (Laughs.) That’s the closest you get to touching real people. When I was in the appeals court, I didn’t want to burn out and get crochety. There are still real people involved. In a social security case, you have to remember that you’re talking about a real person’s aching back.

In the appeals court I tried to write decisions with enough generality to be useful to other cases, but not so general so that I could distinguish a later case if I made a mistake. I can’t really do that now. You’ve got to get it right, the Court can’t zigzag. I used to think stare decisis was an uninteresting, backwards-looking principle. But it has “a forward thrust of tremendous force”. You have to think carefully about the effects of your decisions. You’re bound by what you write.


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