Tom Simard

Poetry, Music, and Prose

“Here Comes the Judge!”

I think a strong case can be made that the most important reason to vote in a presidential election is because the president has the power to select supreme court justices.

Flawed candidate as she was, I’m quite sure Hillary would have selected from a different kettle of fish.

Hard to know where the court is going to end up, especially if Trump gets reelected.  How long can RBG stay on?

At present I’m reading Bernard Schwartz’s A History of the Supreme Court and am getting a history lesson I never had.    He briefly talks about one of the early justices, whom I had never heard of, which led me to do some online searching, where I came across the following, which I couldn’t help but enjoy:

“In 1795, President Washington gave a recess appointment to John Rutledge of South Carolina to serve as chief justice. Washington was apparently unaware that Rutledge was mentally ill. Rutledge was described by one leading South Carolinian as prone to “mad frollicks,” and South Carolina Sen. Ralph Izard said Rutledge was “frequently so much deranged, as to be in a great measure deprived of his senses.”

According to Emory University law professor David Garrow, Rutledge tried repeatedly to drown himself in various rivers before finally resigning within a year of his appointment. (Notably, Rutledge’s confirmed successor, Justice William Cushing, was himself described as “much impaired” mentally and ultimately declined the position.)

And there are more:

Henry Baldwin was confirmed in 1830, and within two years Daniel Webster warned of the “breaking out of Judge Baldwin’s insanity.” Baldwin missed the 1833 term, hospitalized for what was called “incurable lunacy.” He remained on the court for 11 more years.

Justice Robert C. Grier’s problems were widely known among politicians and reporters in the mid-1800s. Historian David Atkinson notes that Grier could “scarcely function” due to physical and mental decline. Yet, in 1869 — just days before Grier agreed to leave the bench under pressure from his colleagues — Chief Justice Salmon Chase insisted on using the incompetent justice as the decisive vote to strike down a major federal law, the Legal Tender Act.

In 1880, Justice Nathan Clifford was described by one of his colleagues as a “babbling idiot.” Newspapers called his seat “practically vacant” due to this illness. He refused to resign and died on the court.

Serving with Clifford was Ward Hunt, who was left speechless and paralyzed after an illness. Yet he too refused to resign because he lacked the 10 years of service needed to earn a pension. Congress passed a law granting him a special pension to get him off the court.”

Through Addictions to Dementia: Supreme Court Justices Have Refused to Step Down — The Need for Reforming the Supreme Court

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One thought on ““Here Comes the Judge!”

  1. Righto, there’s needs be a fix. The supremes are not functioning as planned, they are not above politics or other forms of corruption. Legislative fixes would be to get back to 60 vote conformations in senate and mandating hearings and votes on same in a fixed time frame perhaps excluding the election day—swearing-in day period. Also congressional hearings and votes on recusals. Norms used to work, but during/post trump they won’t. SAD!

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