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The job description of a Supreme Court justice does not include ambassadorial duties. But the four justices who crisscrossed London at the American Bar Association’s convention in mid-July seemed at times to be playing just that kind of role. Every 15 years, the ABA holds its convention in London to celebrate the common roots of the two legal systems, and this year Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer joined in. There was some pomp and circumstance to be sure — Stephen Breyer was spotted in white tie one evening — but it was not all fun and games for the justices. They sometimes faced a hostile audience as they patiently explained and defended the American legal system. And by and large, they were treated far less reverentially in London than they are in the U.S. Consider the scene one afternoon when the topic for the panel discussion was “Common Law, Common Values, Common Rights: Common Law Principles for the 21st Century.” There on a stage sat Kennedy, defending the Court against heavy attack — not something justices usually have to do before American audiences. At the same time, in the crowded auditorium, O’Connor was looking for a place to sit. She wandered down the aisle, perhaps hoping to be recognized, but she wasn’t. In the U.S., lawyers would have been diving from their seats to make way for her. But in London, no one offered to give up a seat. O’Connor finally pushed her way through a row to get to an empty seat. It was a surprise to see the justices viewed merely as fellow participants rather than oracles and demigods. Kennedy could have used O’Connor’s help. He probably had the roughest time of any justice in London. He started off safely enough, extolling the common law of both nations. But soon it got heated, as Lord Lester of Herne Hill, a leading London barrister, accused the Supreme Court of “turning its back on the Continent.” The justices rarely, if ever, cite the decisions of European courts in their own rulings, Lester said, contributing to the “insularity of the American legal system.” He sniped, “Your system is quite certain it has nothing much to learn from us.” By contrast, he said, British courts often invoke European and American court precedents. He and others also noted that the British courts’ outward gaze will increase exponentially beginning Oct. 2, when the European Convention on Human Rights becomes law of the land for Britain. It constitutionalizes human rights law — freedom of expression, right to fair trial, privacy, and free elections, among others — for the first time in Britain. John Sexton, the dean of New York University School of Law, was the first to come to the Supreme Court’s defense. Several justices, he said, have been “extremely active” in moving the Court toward a more internationalist approach to its jurisprudence. “It has begun to permeate the entire system,” Sexton said. But Lester did not give in easily. When, he asked, was the last time a majority opinion of the Supreme Court cited to European court decisions? Kennedy responded without apology, making clear that he’s not about to cite European decisions anytime soon. “If you delegate authority to courts so remote and so unknown that the public doesn’t know . . . who they are, you risk losing the allegiance of the people.” He added, “We are very cautious about referring to international courts” because of uncertainty whether those courts are referring to the same issue the justices are ruling on. Breyer in the past has drawn parallels between European Union problems and the current U.S. debate over federalism, but Kennedy told the London audience that Europe “has nothing to do with our federalism.” Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, also on the panel, came to the American system’s defense as well. “We’re not as parochial as one might think.” With a touch of American bravado, Archer added that, while British courts might be taking the lead now on referring to European law, eventually American lawyers and judges will take the lead. “At the end of the day, we will be ahead.” Kennedy also succumbed to chauvinism at one point, proclaiming that “European courts are maturing. Their judgments are looking more like ours.” Ungenerous laughter greeted that comment. So much for hands across the sea. O’Connor fared better on the opening day of the conference, representing the Court at the rededication of the ABA’s memorial to the Magna Carta in Runnymede, where it was promulgated in 1215. With Attorney General Janet Reno and Lord Harry Woolf, the British lord chief justice on hand, O’Connor praised the Magna Carta as the founding document for the rule of law. “When I walked today across this field, I was deeply moved,” O’Connor said. The Magna Carta, she said, “resonates with every citizen of the United States and the United Kingdom.” The rededication of the memorial was also the occasion for recognizing the 10th anniversary of the ABA’s Central and Eastern European Law Initiative, which has enlisted hundreds of lawyers, including O’Connor, in spreading the rule of law to former Soviet Bloc nations. “There’s no higher calling,” said O’Connor, than “planting, spreading, and nourishing the rule of law.” Reno spoke later, seemingly refreshed and energized by the Magna Carta ceremony. She challenged fellow Floridian Martha Barnett, incoming president of the ABA, to join in a new three-year project to “make the law an instrument of empowerment.” Ginsburg kept a fairly low profile, her main duty being to moderate a panel on international human rights. It was Breyer who spoke the most about the work of the Supreme Court, in a panel on the public perception of justice. “We had a difficult year,” Breyer said. “We decide difficult issues. That’s our job.” According to polls, the public holds the Court in high regard, Breyer said, certainly higher than members of Congress or journalists. He contrasted the Court’s current place in the public’s esteem with the Court’s early days, when Andrew Jackson famously said the Court should enforce its own decisions. “The controversy over the cases we decided [this term] was great,” Breyer said. “But no one thinks the American people, as much as they might detest what we did, won’t follow the decisions.” Inevitably, Breyer was asked why cameras are not allowed in the Supreme Court. Breyer gave his usual reasons, plus a new one or two. Allowing them into the Supreme Court, he said, would be “highly symbolic” and would make it nearly impossible for any other court, including criminal courts, to resist allowing them in as well. Breyer’s next reason: the cult of personality. “We wear black robes as a signal that justice is impersonal,” he said. Allowing cameras in would personalize the Court’s decision making too much. Then, a concern that Breyer heard third-hand, he said, made by onetime Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos: if cameras are allowed, presidents will appoint only telegenic people to the Supreme Court. And finally, Breyer offered a novel reason that he called “lethargy” — another way of saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Whatever the reason for the public’s high regard for the Court, Breyer said, justices are extremely reluctant to do something that might cause its popularity to decline. But Breyer did not rule out cameras forever, calling instead for more research on the impact they would have. He said more research goes into a change in Gucci’s logo than has gone into the question of cameras in the Court. Breyer’s presentation, unlike Kennedy’s earlier in the week, was well received. Only one dissenting voice was heard — from an American who rose during a question-and-answer period. “Breyer was ridiculous,” the man said, apparently referring to his arguments against cameras in the Court. Breyer smiled and shook his head. In London, it appeared, Supreme Court justices were fair game. FREEDOM RIDER The July 14 announcement that Sally Rider will be the new administrative assistant to the chief justice heralded a notable first. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, whose record of hiring minorities as law clerks has been poor, had finally named a female in the important behind-the-scenes job as the Court’s chief of staff. She is universally described as a skilled and highly intelligent litigator. What is also notable is how Rider came to the chief’s attention, and how recently. It was just over a month ago that Rider, an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia and deputy chief of the civil division, successfully defended the Court’s infamous “Regulation Six” against a First Amendment challenge by anti-abortion demonstrators. The regulation, which imposes significant restrictions on the size and type of protest signs allowed on the public sidewalks around the Court — not just on its marble plaza — was promulgated and enforced for the first time on April 25. Not at all coincidentally, that was the third day of anti-abortion demonstrations at the Court, and the actual day of the oral arguments in Stenberg v. Carhart, the so-called partial-birth abortion case. Court police arrested 22 people under the regulation when they refused to take down large banners that graphically displayed the procedure. The charges were dismissed, but the protesters, including Rev. Patrick Mahoney and his Christian Defense Coalition, sought a preliminary injunction against further enforcement of the challenge to the regulation. Mahoney is no stranger to legal tangles with the Court. A few years ago, he was arrested for dropping to his knees and praying on the Court’s marble steps. The new case went before D.C. federal Judge Thomas Hogan, who, at first, showed some signs of sympathy toward the protesters’ complaint. He acknowledged in his later ruling that he was “initially concerned” that the Court’s stated reasons for enacting the regulation-safety, security, access, and aesthetics-”were not the real reasons.” Hogan also denied the government’s motion to quash the protesters’ subpoena of Court Marshal Dale Bosley. As a result, Bosley, who concocted the regulation and its rationale with the approval of Rehnquist, testified in Hogan’s courtroom for several hours on June 20 — an exceedingly rare event. The testimony went well, and Rider succeeded in calming Hogan’s doubts, arguing that the promulgation of Regulation Six had nothing to do with the content of the signs, but everything to do with security concerns. Bosley testified that he never actually saw the front of the signs but worried that because of their size they could block police lines of sight, could be used to trap or corner someone, or could be used as weapons or to conceal weapons. He said he devised the regulation after reviewing similar rules that govern signs outside the White House and Lafayette Park. Hogan denied the injunction on June 23 and ruled that the regulation did not infringe on First Amendment rights. Mahoney plans an appeal. Some scuttlebutt suggests that it was in the preparation for Bosley’s testimony and the case in general that Rehnquist was impressed by Rider’s skills. Others doubt that Rehnquist himself would have had much, if any, direct contact with Rider, and suggest instead that Bosley was impressed with Rider and urged her to apply for the Court job. The fact that she graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Arizona and went to law school there probably did not hurt her chances with former Arizonan Rehnquist. Rider declined comment, and her boss Mark Nagle said he did not know exactly how Rider’s name got to the chief justice. But he acknowledged that preparing for Bosley’s testimony would have “dramatically expanded her contacts with the client, so to speak. The case required close coordination with the Court.” Rider, 43, joined the U.S. attorney’s office in 1990, and quickly made it clear that “she has tremendous analytical, litigating, and writing skills,” says Nagle. She left in 1995 to join the staff of the Office of the Legal Adviser at the State Department but returned in 1998 when U.S. Attorney Wilma Lewis invited her to become one of four deputy chiefs in the Civil Division, with both litigating and supervisory duties. “She has a very deft touch,” says Nagle. “In our office we are forced constantly to move from one highly developed, possibly arcane area of the law to another. She handles it all with tremendous proficiency.” Edith Marshall, of counsel in the D.C. firm of Powers, Pyles, Sutter & Verville, worked with Rider in the U.S. attorney’s office and agrees that Rider is “very talented, very well thought of. She does everything well.” Rider starts her two-year stint working for Rehnquist on Aug. 14.

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