There are two interesting articles this week – both concerning the North American Supreme Courts – that are well worth a read. The first, from The Washington Post, evaluates Elena Kagan’s first year as Supreme Court Justice. Kagan’s appointment last year was seen as a victory for Obama, and also marked a break with tradition as the first Justice since 1972 to be appointed with no former judicial experience and as only the fourth female appointee in the court’s 221 year history. The Washington Post suggests that Kagan has done well in her first year:
“While Kagan’s writings as an academic did not suggest a strong legal philosophy, her opinions and dissents from the bench have shown a conversational, confident writer, at times as sarcastic and cutting as a veteran”
She has also gained a reputation as one of the more informal members of the court:
“At 51, Kagan is the youngest of the justices and at times displays a less-formal demeanor and style. During the court’s arguments over the sale of violent video games, she casually mentioned the “iconic” game Mortal Kombat, “which I’m sure half of the clerks who work for us spent considerable amounts of time in their adolescence playing.”
The other article, from The Globe and Mail, is an interview with Justice Ian Binnie, of the Canadian Supreme Court, who retired at the beginning of September. The interview is a rare occurrence, and Binnie gives an intriguing insight into the world of the Court – particularly the methods the judges use to prevent infighting and voting blocs. The judges do not discuss cases outside of judicial conferences and avoid after hours fraternizing. In some ways in sounds a lonely life; in describing his relationship with fellow judges Binnie quoted the first violinist of the Tokyo string quartet:
“They had been together 34 years. He was asked what enabled them to keep together so long. He said they never ate together, they never travelled together and they generally stayed at different hotels. And that was the secret of their success.”
Binnie also said that the Canadian bar are reluctant to mix with judges and hence the image of “monk like isolation” on the bench is real. While the UK Supreme Court grapples with devolution cases the Canadian Court has its own challenges in dealing with cases concerning Quebec. Binnie’s first case was on the proposed Quebec secession, and currently politicians are calling for French to be a requirement for Supreme Court judges, something that Binnie says is an “explosive” issue.
Both articles provide an interesting glimpse of judiciaries across the pond, but one fact repeatedly stands out about both courts. The Canadian Court has four female justices out of nine and the United States Court has three. As the Judicial Appointments Commission struggles with the perennial issue of ‘how to solve a problem like judicial diversity’ it might be worth looking across the Atlantic for some hints.
If you are interested in courts around the world the exhibition at the Supreme Court on courts around the world is still on for the next few days. You can find the details here.