Supreme Court Sleepers and Surprises
June 6, 2014
Ethan Thursby (’15 Political Science major with a minor in History) just recently served on jury duty for the first time. The experience reminded him of the semester he interned in Washington D.C. when he sat in on a case at the Supreme Court.
After having served on jury duty for the first time this week, I have been thinking a lot about the last time I was in a courtroom. I was spending the semester in Washington D.C. and was fortunate enough to be able to sit in on a case at the Supreme Court one cold November afternoon. I took the opportunity to focus on the justices and how they interacted. I came away surprised and in some cases with a newfound respect, not for their politics, but for certain justices’ ability as jurors.
During the hour I observed the justices three of them really stood out. In my opinion Justice Breyer was the most impressive of the nine. I am embarrassed to admit that when listing the members of the court Justice Breyer was usually the one I would forget, but I will never forget his name again. He was actively questioning both sides, which unfortunately is not as common as one would think. I don’t know if this is business as usual for the court or just the nature of the session that I saw, but he was by far the most vocal justice during the hour I witnessed.
The other justice who impressed me was Samuel Alito. I was not expecting to like Justice Alito and he did not give a good first impression. He sat with his head in his hands, leaned back in his chair, and looked like he was examining the ornate ceiling. Suddenly he leaned forward in his leather chair and ask an incredibly complex and well thought out question. He would repeatedly go through these steps when asking questions. It was amazing to be able to see how his thought process worked and I developed a newfound respect for him as a juror.
When I picture my ideal juror it is someone who is actively engaged in the case. Even if they are not talking very much I would like it to be clear that they are listening to what is happening. From what I saw, Clarence Thomas did not fulfill either of these qualifications. He looked similar to how Justice Alito did at the beginning, only even less attentive. He periodically leaned so far back in his chair that he was barely visible above the bench and for a period of about five minutes he even looked like he was asleep. But unlike Justice Alito he never broke out of this apparent boredom to ask a question, in fact he was the only justice to not say a single word during the entire proceedings. The nature of Justice Thomas’ behavior on the bench has been commented on many times by court watchers with many different possible explanations offered. However, I felt that it was embarrassing to see how little he seemed to care about what was going on around him given the gravity of the decisions that he plays a part in making.
Being able to see the Supreme Court in session was a once in a lifetime experience. I am glad that I stood in line for an hour in freezing winds to be able to see the highest court in the land in action. During that hour I realized that politics and respect are two separate things. Even though I do not agree with a person’s politics that does not mean that I cannot respect them as a person or the way they go about their job. If more people adopted this attitude there might not be as much rancor between the political parties.
(Pictured: Thursby is bottom row, first on the right with his fellow interns).