Annually, the Supreme Court, along with other federal agencies that receive appropriations, testifies for its funding before Congress.
The hearing has served as a way to discuss administrative issues of concern between the two branches of government, with a caveat that the Congress, while exercising the power of the purse, is the stronger of the two.
It is good for this to happen. While the judicial branch is independent, the judicial branch must always be institutionally reminded that the branch’s independence does not imply royalty. Rather, the judiciary serves the citizens through the fair application of laws in the country.
Supreme Court Law Clerks
The hearing before the House Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government (Rep. Jose Serrano is the chairman of the subcommittee) included a discussion of the people selected to be law clerks for individual Supreme Court Justices.
The demographic composition of employees who are law clerks is a long-standing issue for Chairman Serrano. The topic is particularly poignant as the Court renders decisions using idealized racial comity as a rationale for its decisions on affirmative action cases. Meanwhile, the Court has difficulty answering a question about the composition of their law clerks. Justices Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas, who testified for the Supreme Court at the hearing, stated that they are aware of the issue (an answer similar to that made in previous years).
Since law clerks are ultimately paid with taxpayer dollars, it is worth considering whether a group with largely homogeneous backgrounds and with predominately “elite” (that is, Harvard, Yale, Stanford) law school educations can truly be fair to all who come before the Court. Remember that all citizens must live under the Court’s decisions and most citizens did not attend “elite” institutions.
Also, it seems that people that do not have these characteristics are essentially disqualified from being truly considered for a law clerk position. There are approximately 1,162,124 (2008 number) attorneys and most of them do not attend the “elite” institutions. Justice Antonin Scalia said as much at a recent speech at American University’s Washington College of Law.
Questions about the people who are filling these public positions should not be avoided because the topic is uncomfortable for some. I commend Representative Serrano for asking this simple, yet extremely important, question that provides profound information to the public.
Cameras in the Courtroom
I may hold a minority view, but I think that C-SPAN camera access to the oral arguments is long overdue. The Court’s objections to broadcasting of oral arguments through video camera only serve to thwart legitimate expectations of transparency and openness. Citizens that do not live within the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area will have to expend tremendous amounts of money to get to the Supreme Court for a chance to view an oral argument (the Court’s courtroom is small, and public seating is limited). In addition, with the expansion of the Internet, there is an increased need for information.
It is encouraging that the Court has decided to provide oral argument transcripts. The publication of the oral argument transcripts is a step in the right direction.