Justice Anthony Kennedy: Superman (Diego M. Radzinschi; DC Comics)
In the never-ending battle for justice, legal soldiers sometimes need to call on a Justice League of their own — one whose members bring super, even supreme, powers to the fight. Will it be Captain America aka Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. to the rescue? Wonder Woman aka Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg?
Last month, Steve Klepper of Balti­more’s Kramon & Graham delved into the world of comic book and action heroes to honor a state court judge with an affinity for action-hero movies. On a blog sponsored by the Maryland State Bar Association’s litigation section that he edits, he created action-hero avatars for nine retired and deceased U.S. Supreme Court justices.
This month, at the NLJ’s request, Klepper agreed to similarly analyze how the sitting justices might take their places in a SCOTUS Justice League. His criteria were short and simple: There could be only one chief justice; a justice’s jurist chops were relevant but not the focus; and the justice’s biography had to fit a cartoonish action-hero narrative.
Roberts, he contends, was inevitable as Captain America. “The chin. The blue eyes. The patriotism. The natural leadership. The propensity for bumper-sticker aphorisms like ‘the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.’ The chief justice of the United States is our Star-Spangled Avenger,” he writes.
And Ginsburg as Wonder Woman? “Only the most iconic comic book hero is worthy of being linked to the Notorious R.B.G. Ginsburg has become an internet folk hero over the past few years. Every sharp Ginsburg dissent instantly appears as a meme in my Twitter feed. Also, Ginsburg can do more pushups than I can.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy is Super­man, “so powerful that writers struggle to contrive situations in which his teammates are nonsuperfluous,” Klepper writes. “Kennedy was in the majority of every 5-to-4 opinion last term. On hot-button issues like abortion rights, public prayer and marriage equality, Kennedy may as well be the only justice sitting.”
‘EARTH’S MIGHTIEST COURT’
And Justice Sonia Sotomayor becomes She-Hulk, Klepper writes. “Bruce Banner’s cousin is an attorney who never liked New York City firm life that much. She moonlighted as a member of the Fantastic Four and Avengers, and she recently left a big firm to start a solo legal practice. Sotomayor, after seven years of private practice, happily took a pay cut to become a federal trial judge, and she rapidly ascended to Earth’s Mightiest Court.”
Among retired justices, Klepper noted, casting Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as “The Hunger Games” character Katniss Everdeen was a no-brainer. “Like the ‘District 12′-born-and-raised star of the popular teenage-death-match franchise, O’Connor also grew up on the geographic fringes, on a ranch in El Paso, Texas. There she had a pet bobcat. No, seriously. A bobcat. O’Connor drove by age 7 and was proficient with a rifle by age 8. It’s not at all hard to imagine her wielding a bow and arrow or rescuing perpetual dude in distress Peeta Mellark.”
Just as obvious: Jake Sully from “Avatar” for Justice William Douglas. Why? “If any justice would choose to have his consciousness transferred to a 10-foot-tall alien body to fight the industrial destruction of the environment, William Douglas would definitely be the one. In fact, we can’t rule out that this didn’t happen,” Klepper writes.
“Douglas, concurring in Sierra Club v. Morton (1972) expressed his belief that ‘valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even air that feels the destructive pressures of modern technology and modern life’ should have standing to sue in environmental cases. ‘The voice of the inanimate object,’ Douglas wrote, ‘should not be stilled.’ So there you have him: our first Na’vi justice.”
Klepper came up with action-hero avatars for deceased justices Thurgood Marshall (Roger Murtaugh of “Lethal Weapon”); Byron White (“Point Break” protagonist Johnny Utah); Oliver Wendell Holmes (Billy Munny of “Unforgiven”); John Marshall Harlan (“Terminator 2″ hero John Connor); Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II (Jonah Hex); and Chief Justice Salmon Chase (X-Men’s Professor X). See the full list at http://mdappellate.wordpress.com and scroll down.
Klepper has been fascinated from an early age with the Supreme Court and he credits a “wonderful social studies teacher” in junior high school.
“I always had an interest in Supreme Court history and had done a paper on the Fourth Amendment in the sixth grade which coincided with the 200th anniversary of the Constitution,” he said. “So there I was, a sixth grader learning the facts of Map v. Ohio before I even knew what pornography was.”
His interest in the court continued into college, where he earned a history degree, and then into the University of Virginia for a dual J.D. and doctorate program in law and history. Besides practicing law, he teaches a course on the Supreme Court in American history at his undergraduate alma mater, Goucher College.
Klepper is no stranger to Supreme Court practice. He has been involved in what he described as an “odd little niche” — resisting high court review of grants of habeas relief by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
In February 2013, he and his co-counsel lost to a unanimous Supreme Court in Johnson v. Williams. But on remand to the Ninth Circuit, the lawyers spotted a problem in both the high court’s opinion and the Ninth Circuit’s response to it. They filed their own petition for review in the Supreme Court. On July 1, 2014, on the last orders list of the term, the justices in Williams v. Johnson vacated and remanded the Ninth Circuit’s subsequent ruling against them and directed it to consider their client’s Sixth Amendment claim.
“This is humble brag: We’ve got a client with a substantial constitutional claim and one more chance to challenge her life sentence,” he said.
Klepper started the Maryland Appel­late Blog nearly a year ago with modest expectations. It has had 26,000 hits since it launched.
“As long as you follow a mantra of always trying to build other people up instead of tearing them down, you’ll make a lot of friends,” he said.
Meanwhile, stay tuned: Klepper confided he’s thinking about a SCOTUS supervillain sequel to his comic heroes’ oeuvre. Nominations for The Joker, anyone?