Stevens, Supreme Court, O'conner discussed on Amicus with Dahlia Lithwick


Was in the bridge club and he would never bother to correct anybody or or you know let them know what his day job was. so it really was something that was very true to his personality not just on the bench but in all aspects of of his life but I think you know the practices as you mentioned do demonstrate his humility he he wrote his own first drafts because he believed that was the best way to make sure or he was reaching the correct outcome he cared in particular about the facts of the case he wanted to really grapple with the facts he wanted to understand the facts and you know make sure he fully understood the record in the case and he felt like the best way to do that was to dig himself and to you know right right out that part of the opinion and he he was even known from time to time that he would go into his office to work on his draft and he would emerge having declaring that he had changed his take in the case in possibly even his vote because you know having gone through that process opened his eyes to something new about the case but I think as you know former locklear one of the ways you saw his humility. The most was how when he interacted with us. He just really conveyed to us that he felt like he could learn from us. As much is you know we learn from him which was just ridiculous but I'm very much an evidence. I think again of his humility I think Kate Shaw had a really nice quote in one of the tribute pieces where she said that it was simultaneously Tena Asli terrifying and also unbelievably fortifying for a little kid law clerk essentially to be told like okay it's on can you and that he really did trust his clerks immensely Jim. I wonder if I just mentioned the Cert Pool in didn't explain what it was so maybe explain for a minute what the cert pool is and what it meant that justice. Stevens opted out sure the cert pool is a way for the justices to divide the the politicians or the applications for cases to be heard when I was clerking. It was about eight thousand per year. I think it's roughly the same today and so it's very hard for any individual justice to review all those petitions of course the clerks help out but a practice developed really over the last several decades accolades where all of the clerks who participated in this thing called the cert pool would get on a wheel and just kind of divide the eight thousand petitions among themselves themselves and they would each write a memo that would be circulated to all the other justices chambers talking about whether the the facts of the case whether the case should be granted or not and it was recommendation and each individual chambers could then make their own decisions based on what the pool memos said but they were not the first point of contact each justice. Stevens and not being part of the pool was saying you know I don't want some other justices clerks to be the ones sounds to summarize a cert petition for me. I want that to happen in chambers and in fact when it did happen in chambers he didn't really want his own clerks to summarize the the petitions either. He just wanted us to kind of flag ones that he should read on himself and that really does I think speak to the humility see that we were talking about before which is in any number of practices including writing his own opinions for the first draft including not being in the cert pool including not getting you know elaborate memos from his clerks summarizing the cases the court was going to hear he wanted to make sure that he was arriving at decisions through his own mental process and not being influenced by other people recognizing that that really can change your mind if someone else's takes the first whack at something it it influences you and he wanted to make sure that the decision making was by the person who was confirmed by the Senate and appointed by the president and not by clerks. You're both checking me on this humility thing that I'm saying and I love that. You're both saying no. It is actually the consummate act of humility to say I actually have to make up my my own mind the opposite of what I'm thinking of in terms of very controlling or you know that that I can't be a part of a larger cert pool. Pull your both saying actually this is very emblematic of somebody who really felt as though humility requires him to do the work I would say so so I am hesitating a little bit because he was not a person who lacked self-confidence all right he was when he reached a decision he was he was very often often quite sure he was right but that was because he had taken the time to go through the facts to think it through to get a first impression that wasn't generated by someone else right and so he was confident in his process but he wasn't. He didn't think that he was better than other people. Camila had asked you for a favorite moment from oral argument and you came up with this kind of obscure exchange from Barnard versus Thorsten Justin this is argued in January of nineteen eighty nine here's justice O'Conner chiding a lawyer for calling justices judge. We don't think I think that it would work judge for several reasons. I think were generally call justice. I'm sorry what now keep hosting because here's justice the Steven wants it might be alleviated if we had more lawyers who were actually there judge Justice Stephen but it cannot your mistake judges also so made in article three of the Constitution by the way I so so tell me way too well. What is this when that you pulled for us as something that was representative presentative of something uniquely Stevens Ish why I think it's a couple of things about that clip one is that he's right and the Constitution doesn't say justice does a judge when it talks about the supreme court but it's also that he was kind of simultaneously accomplishing a couple of things he was trying to set the advocate at what s who was clearly nervous and rattled by having been rebuked by Justice O'Connor and saying really don't worry about it but also it was it really was a kind of chiding of justice O'Conner as well but in the most gentle kind of joking way possible and recognizing that it's hard to do that directly he really had a lot of what you might call emotional intelligence. I think he can reader room pretty well and and there are other examples of this and there's one in his obituary by Linda Greenhouse Times where she mentioned his anecdote where there's some some function the justices are having one of the female clerks has been asked to to hand out drinks or something and he takes over for her and says and so I think it's my turn now and I think that's just another example of ways in which as you say he didn't like anyone kind of being talked down to and but he was also very socially aware in a way that not every you know not everyone. has that set of skills sign your thoughts on that yeah. I know that you also have lots of stories about justice. Stevens just being like freakishly sensitive to kind of dynamics in a way that I think so many of the justices sometimes don't necessarily hone in on the most vulnerable person in the room he he did have kind of an uncanny way of doing that right you know he did and I I love that clip that you played because it's it is it's like all of it together like you know so it's kind it's funny and it's super smart all all in one just quick exchange and it just so much about him but he did and it was another way hey where. I think he was a surprise to people use. All this sort of you know reserved midwesterner. Who you know it was the opposite of sort of touchy feely you know hippy or whatever of of the generation maybe that came after him and yet when it mattered when it mattered to having this ability ready to figure out you know the power imbalance or who needed hugh needed a lift or who needed you know the kind word at at the right time he he was really amazing in that way. 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