Supreme Court Needs to Get to Work!

Thursday, September 30th, 2021

Baton Rouge, Louisiana



If you look at poll numbers, it’s becoming obvious that the American public is losing confidence in the US Supreme Court.  In a new Gallop poll released this past week, only 40% of you as citizens approve of the job that has been done by the High Court. And it’s not just one party or the other. “At this point, less than a majority of Republicans, Democrats and independents approve of the job the court is doing,” said Gallup, which has been tracking the trend since 2000.

Justices on the nation’s highest court complain about their low salary. But the plain truth is that the court as a whole just does not work very hard.  Some 10,000 petitions are filed in the Supreme Court each year, and almost all of them are turned aside. This year, the court might consider some 60 cases.  They never worked too hard in the past, but at least up until some 15 years ago, the normal load was 125 cases or more.  But no longer.  The Supremes need more time for other pursuits.

Come summertime, there are no thoughts of carrying out the constitutional responsibility of considering cases of those who feel they are aggrieved.  No, it’s time to head off for speaking junkets and lucrative teaching posts far and beyond.   Justice Samuel Alito prefers the beaches and teachers in Malibu California at Pepperdine University at its Oceanside campus. And the Chief Justice John Roberts was paid $15,000 to teach a one week course in Vienna in recent years.  He should have stayed home and practice giving the oath.

Justices also benefit from the ethically troubling practice of regularly taking all expense paid junkets, often financed by private interests with business before this very court.  Many are labeled as “educational seminars” with large honorariums being received for a lecture.  The court has soiled its reputation by accepting such freebies, and it is obvious the members are incapable of effective self-policing. 

Congress is proposing a 30% pay increase bringing salaries up to $255,000 a year with the Chief Justice earning $280.000, plus benefits and regular cost of living increases.   But with the increase comes some restrictions that do not make the Justices happy. Limits on outside income.  Get paid more but stay in Washington and get more work done.  NO way say the Supremes.  They are opposing any such limitations, because right now they have lots of time off and are allowed whatever they can make on the side.

The justices also exasperate any strong public sympathies by covering the court’s work in a shroud of secrecy.  No television coverage of any kind.  It’s a good thing many of these judges write books for extra cash, or they would keep the aura of invisibility surrounding them.  Justices do surface to peddle their books on TV.  We saw Justice Antonin Scalia before his death on 60 minutes for the sole purpose of hawking his memoirs.  So too did Clarence Thomas and a host of other justices who put pen to paper and met with the press for the sole purpose of selling books.

With so little public availability, it’s no wonder that in a recent Zogby Poll, only 24% of adults could name two Supreme Court justices.  77% could name two or more of the Seven Dwarfs.

And when it comes to the work of the court, or lack thereof, the Justices do not even pick the few cases that are chosen for review.   There is an arrangement among the court’s members known as the “cert. pool” where clerks for each Justice meet and make recommendations as to what cases will be considered.  So we have a system where a young clerk just out of law school is allowed great sway over what cases get reviewed.

Professor David Stras, who teaches law at the University of Minnesota, has studied the whole problem of the law clerk pooling system and says: “The pool system does put enormous influence and power in a single clerk.  I’m quite sure there are cases that fall through the cracks.”   Special Prosecutor Ken Starr wrote in a recent law review article that there: “is an unjustifiable influence of the cert. pool and a hydraulic pressure to say no.”

As long as the court takes only a handful of cases and let’s their law clerks do most of the work, it’s easy to “get work done” on time.  But by not giving proper attention to a number of major legal issues, the court is shortchanging the citizens they were sworn to protect.  But with lifetime tenure, summers off to travel the world and be paid for it, and a large salary increase on the way, there is little pressure to do any work at all.  


 The court of last resort is no longer the Supreme Court. It’s “Nightline.” –Alan M. Dershowitz                                 

 Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at




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