DC Dicta asks: Does it take a judge to be a justice?

Every single current Supreme Court justice is a former federal appellate judge. And Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. likes it that way.

cjrobertsThe high court has been an all fed-bred team since Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a former state judge and state legislator, retired. By contrast, when Roberts’ predecessor Chief Justice William Rehnquist took the center seat, former federal judges were in the minority.

But since that time, Roberts said, the Court has become more efficient, with the justices approaching issues in a relatively similar way. “The practice of constitutional law – how constitutional law was made – was more fluid and wide ranging than it is today, more in the realm of political science,” Roberts said in speech at the University of Arizona’s Rehnquist Center, as reported by The New York Times‘ Adam Liptak. But since then “the method of analysis and argument shifted to the more solid grounds of legal arguments. What are the texts of the statutes involved? What precedents control?”

But apparently President Barack Obama doesn’t agree, meaning Roberts’ beloved bench of federal alums may not last too long. Obama’s “new” vision of Washington means he’s likely be looking in more places than the federal judiciary for Supreme Court picks – after all, his solicitor general pick Elena Kagan, who has never been a judge or even argued before the Supremes, is still on the list of potential picks.

Others said to be on Obama’s mind include Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Harvard Law uber-academic Cass Sunstein.

But is experience more important than having justices from a diversity of experiences who approach legal analysis in different ways? What do you think?


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