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Congratulations on your nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. I wish you well in the confirmation proceedings and, since I have no doubt you will be confirmed, I wish you a long, enjoyable and rewarding tenure. From what I understand, you will bring great intellectual vigor, wise judgment and sturdy independence to the court. Ordinarily a private letter would be appropriate, but these are unusual times, and I hope by this open letter to appeal to others of like mind and to those who are its subject. I write, first of all, as someone who loves, cares deeply about and sometimes grieves for the Constitution, the courts and our country. I also write as a member of the bench with 29 years of experience, 25 of those on the U.S. district court. I write because of my strong belief in the independence of the judiciary. I write you because you are the only person who may have the will, the wisdom and the ability to stop a disturbing phenomenon ushered in with your nomination, although I am sure not encouraged by you: the buying and selling of the Supreme Court. Almost immediately after your nomination, the airwaves were filled with advertisements in support of, and in opposition to, your appointment. Turning on my television or logging on to my computer, there you are, the subject of what must be highly priced ads. (Fortunately, you are easy on the eyes.) There you are sandwiched between the purveying of window cleaners and male enhancement pills. Since you frequently pop up on my monitor, I am assuming that you are also the subject of full-page ads in many newspapers. Courts sullied I don’t know about you, but I feel our robes becoming soiled and the courts sullied as one of our number ascends to the dignity of the greatest court in our land. I suspect from what I have read of your integrity and great respect for the law and our courts that you may be troubled by this as well. The sponsors of these ads appear to have little respect for the courts. In fact, it may be their lack of respect that motivates them to treat your nomination as just another political campaign. As we know, it is up to us as justices and judges to be above that fray. I’m sure, based on what I have learned about you, that you will rise above the constituencies that seek to claim and brand you. I get a strong sense of how you feel about the awesomeness of your new position from the comments you made at the White House, recounting the lump in your throat as you walk up the marble steps of the Supreme Court to argue your next case. However, observing the plethora of ads, I wonder what is next. Will billboards line those marble steps? Will we be offered endorsement patches for our robes? There is a tawdriness to this current atmosphere that is very distressing. It makes me sad for our courts and for the majesty of the office of Supreme Court justice. Add to this the fact, as I understand it, that the groups sponsoring these ads expect to line their coffers with contributions, and you see why I refer to this phenomenon as the “buying and selling of the Supreme Court.” At a time when many institutions in this society garner little respect, the courts have generally stood apart, despite the frequent assaults upon them. Citizens of this great country respect and want to respect the courts. We owe it to them not to disappoint them. While approval ratings for the other branches of government have been sinking, even the approval rating of the much-maligned 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is more than twice that of Congress and nearly twice that of the president. The president asked for dignified confirmation proceedings. The very next day the ads began. So much for dignity. Perhaps the president or even the so-called Gang of Fourteen could intercede. But you more than anyone have it in your power to persuade. I am sure that a phone call or a public statement from you imploring cessation of these ads by those who support you would have a puissant effect upon this crass exploitation. Whether those who oppose you would respond to your entreaties is another question. However, they would be hard pressed to pursue a one-sided campaign. I, and I am sure many of my colleagues would, implore all proponents and opponents to refrain. These groups have never suffered from an inability to reach and influence the Senate. They have the ability to use traditional forms of lobbying and to testify before the Judiciary Committee. I beseech you to use your unique position to encourage the restoration of dignity to this and future confirmation proceedings. You will do a great service to the courts and the principle of judicial independence. You will help to keep that lump-in-the-throat experience; you will uphold the majesty of the law as proclaimed by the friezes in that majestic building where you will soon sit; and you will make us all proud as citizens, lawyers and judges. Marilyn Hall Patel is a U.S. district judge, and former chief judge, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

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