Oh, to be a federal judge, a lifetime judge. Ah, to interpret the U.S. Constitution for lawmakers or to have the unbridled joy of deciding what Congress meant without being able to ask it.
It is delightful to be on the federal bench and divine to be on the Supreme Court, where you can play mind games and search for writers’ clues hidden in the 222-year-old Constitution. It is the treasure hunt that never ends. More: You can look at plain words–such as those in the Second Amendment—and, depending on your personal interests, opine on what they mean with two radically different interpretations.
You can also stir things up by interpreting what your predecessors had already interpreted. Stare decisis et non quieta mouvere (settled law)? That is just what they tell the kids in law school. The pranksters on the highest court in the land will have none of it. Hence, Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance all the time. No stare decisis there.
Can anything be as much fun as deciding what a group of, albeit exceptional and erudite, 18th-century white men thought about the Internet? Talk about trivial pursuit. But it is not trivial; it can reshape the country. As each term approaches, fancy contemplating how much fun it would be to rearrange history by persuading just four of your fellow justices.
But that is not all. Working conditions are pretty nice. You cannot be fired. The pay is good. There is no mandatory retirement. All heavy lifting, from your suitcase to a weighty opinion, can be delegated to those too-eager clerks. The little buggers plan to make millions on the strength of clerking for you. Make them work for it, whether it is picking up your laundry or redefining the rights of the press.
But that is still not all. As an added bonus, the evidence suggests you will live a long time. After all, there is no strain. You are treated with unctuous deference. Even if you are so gaga you cannot tell one colleague from another, a thousand law schools will hang on your ramblings. Clerks will write opinions for you based on what they think you said. Deferential colleagues will try to side with you, even if they think you’re full of it.
And do not forget the sheer exhilaration of writing a minority opinion. You can really let off steam in those. It is the next best thing to talk radio for venting, and it has a much greater impact. Just savor the shock on your colleagues’ faces when you turn against them and, quoting you smartest clerk, you tell them what the Founders meant.
You have enjoyed the reality television show “Survivor.” Well, that is what life on the court can be like–with the additional pleasure that you can’t be voted off, canceled or bitten by a poisonous snake.
The greatest pleasure of all, though, is to go against the constituency that endorsed you. From Earl Warren to David Souter, this fun has been intense. Appointing a justice is a crap shoot: Like Henry II appointing Thomas Becket to be Archbishop of Canterbury, high perfidy is possible.
In recent years, things have been changing for the justices: more women and minorities have joined the all-white-male rumpus room. This change to a representative court brings up issues we should be informed about. Have the Great Ones had to clean up their language, or put down the seat on the highest legal throne in the land? Does Clarence Thomas speak without being spoken to? Does Antonin Scalia smirk in private as well as in public? And does John Paul Stevens remember when he was born?
However democratic we try to be, when presidents nominate someone for the highest court in the land, they create a demigod, beyond the reach of politicians and their jackals, journalists. They enter their own Pantheon, as sanctified and superior as the gods of ancient Rome who were given, like the Supreme Court, a marble temple, courtesy of the Emperor Hadrian.