Listen: How a Renovation Made the Supreme Court a Friendlier Place
"In this time of declining civility twitter trolls shattered chatter norms and shouting cable TV talking heads on both sides. Let's pause for a moment to consider a story about how rearranging furniture yes furniture you could make the world a more cordial neighborly place well at least the Supreme Court we begin our story in nineteen sixty nine with a man named Warren Burger he had recently been appointed chief justice of the United States Supreme Court Burger was one of the most influential in brilliant legal minds of his time he was also a gifted interior designer in upon his appointment went to the Supreme Court Burger embarked on a tour of the Court Not Unlike a buyer on HDTV how sunning show in their book the brethren Washington Post Journalist Bob Woodward Scott Armstrong described the tour writing quote beginning his own small office Burger remarked that it was smaller smaller than his old one at the Court of Appeals. Surely that would not do in fact. The entire place needed in extreme court. Mako walls needed a paint job. The lighting was tragic and when he got to the courtroom itself Woodward and Armstrong described one issue this quote Burger pointed to the justices nine high back leather chairs each justice chose his own and the styles and sizes vary. It looked unseemly disorderly. Berger said in the future sure only one kind of chair would be available okay so the chairs not a huge deal though still important from a decor standpoint but that wasn't the inspired observation that gave rise to telling this story what was well. Burger looked at the bench where the most powerful jurists in the world heard the defining cases of our time it went straight across the table at a banquet and as Burger new. I'm from arguing before the court this meant the justices couldn't hear each other well and they often didn't know who was talking or about to talk this led to confusion this led to constant interruptions this led to rudeness both real and perceived poll and what Burger did next led to the court being forever reshaped figuratively and argumentatively. He ordered the bench inch be torn up and rebuilt a wide new shape. Some hated the change justice. William O Douglas said that it was quote it as useless and unnecessary as a man's sixth Cadillac but a recent study in the Journal of Supreme Court history found differently in analyzing oral arguments for nine thousand nine hundred sixty two two thousand nine hundred eighty two before and after the bench makeover the study's authors found that interruptions dropped opt by more than half the court actually became a nicer place because of this one change in the decor just because the justices can now see each other when they talked. It's kind of what your mom always told you. I contact is very important. Applying academic research to the present problems is notoriously difficult but the study's authors broadly speaking think they're onto something. They wrote quote collegiality. Among governing actors is more important today than ever yet. Leaders must sometimes grease the wheels to enhance collegiality people cannot simply step into a moving river in expect to divert its direction burger discovered. It wasn't that difficult to do. You just have to move furniture."