Ah, summertime at SCOTUS—the season when justices fan out across the globe to rest, to interact with the public and to teach law students in some of academia’s most desirable destinations.
Justice Anthony Kennedy’s perennial teaching gig at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law program in Salzburg, Austria, made unexpected news when his wife Mary Kennedy fell and suffered a fractured hip. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. will soon teach a course in New Zealand at the Victoria University of Wellington. Justice Samuel Alito Jr. has just finished up teaching in Rome for the Loyola University Chicago School of Law’s Rome program, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is back from a stint in Malta for South Texas College of Law Houston. (Hat tip to SCOTUS Map, which tracks justices’ public appearances.)
The court still handles important appeals—including the latest concerning the Trump travel ban—and justices have also been busy making appearances closer to home.
Here are some of the remarks justices have made off the bench since (or before) the court finished its business for the term in late June:
A Little Bit Shaky
At the Aspen Institute in Colorado on July 10, Justice Elena Kagan spoke about her first oral argument as solicitor general, as well as her path to being appointed to the Supreme Court. Her first time at the court lectern was in the re-argument of the landmark Citizens United case in September 2009. According to a local Aspen press report, Kagan said that as she approached the lectern, her heart was beating so hard that she could not hear. After she uttered one memorized sentence, Justice Antonin Scalia leaned over the bench to challenge what she had said: “Wait, wait, wait, wait.” In hindsight, Kagan said the interruption was a good thing. “My own view was that he knew that … I was a little bit shaky,” she said, “and he was going to put me into the game right away. When someone challenges you, you have to stand right back and that’s what happened and it turned out fine.” Well, not exactly. The government lost the case.
Running the Zoo
Apart from riding in a convertible at a Fourth of July parade in Colorado, Justice Neil Gorsuch has made at least two public appearances since becoming a justice in April. The first was a June 2 discussion at Harvard University with Justice Stephen Breyer as part of a Marshall Scholar event. (Both justices were Marshall scholars, as was National Constitution Center president Jeffrey Rosen, who moderated.) Gorsuch said he has been asked, “Why would I want to go through what you go through every day? Is it worth it?’” His response: “Somebody’s got to run the zoo.” More substantively, Gorsuch compared the British and U.S. judicial systems. “The similarities are profound—an adversarial system of justice, great respect for certain human rights. We believe in certain forms of limited government, separation of powers.” But there is one major difference, he said. “The notion of judicial review, to my British friends, is somewhat astonishing and very, very worrisome,” Gorsuch said. “Maybe worrisome to some here.”
Gorsuch’s other appearance came July 17, when he filled in for Kennedy at the judicial conference of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He listened to two students making presentations about the Japanese internment cases, both referring to the current travel ban controversy. “Moments like these are really heartening for me,” Gorsuch told students. “It’s like a shot in the arm—a vitamin B shot.”
I Wish You Bad Luck
With his son Jack Roberts in the audience, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. managed to do the nearly impossible on June 3: he gave a memorable and different commencement speech. John Roberts spoke before graduates at Cardigan Mountain School, a New Hampshire boarding school for boys in middle grades. The money quotes:
“From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either … I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”
In a dialogue with longtime court expert Alan Morrison before the American Constitution Society, Breyer was asked about his health. His answer: “You know, I mean sometimes people do ask me that. The worst one was a woman who came up and said, ‘You know, ever since the election I’ve been hoping you wouldn’t die.’ I said, ‘Well actually, I was hoping that even before the election.’ … But I’m fine.” Asked also about his bicycle injuries over the years, Breyer said, “It wasn’t exactly a problem with my bicycle. It was a problem with my putting out my arm like that at the wrong time … Actually, the doctor said I could bicycle. He said, ‘But if you fall off again, you’re going to feel like such a moron that it’s better to use a stationary bike.’ So there we are.”