Letters to the Editor
Rehnquist the Mensch
Posted May 1, 2010 4:00 AM CDT
Regarding “The William Rehnquist You Didn’t Know,” March: I met Justice Rehnquist in 1972 after he gave a speech in Washington, D.C., and I had to bring his car from the garage. It was an old BMW, which was exciting to me, a college student who rode the bus.
When I arrived at the appointed door (where President Ronald Reagan was shot years later), I said to Rehnquist, “That’s a great car!” His response was to get in the passenger seat and tell me to drive. So I did and we zoomed about D.C. and he kept saying, “Faster, faster.”
On returning to the hotel, we chatted for a few minutes about his new job on the court. My most important memory is his response when I asked about conflict among the justices: “If someone agrees with me, that’s great; and if they don’t, that’s OK too.” I have tried to apply that approach during my decade as a judge.
Judge John J. Mitchel
While a young law student at Georgetown, I made it my business to watch many of the arguments being heard by the Supreme Court. There was a great place downstairs to grab a delicious, federally subsidized breakfast. At my table one morning sat a man wearing a button-down work shirt with thick glasses.
“You look very familiar,” I said. “Really,” said the man, “how so?” I asked him a few questions until finally I asked, “Just what do you do?”
“Well,” said the man, smiling, “basically, I come to this building, have my usual breakfast, put on a black robe and sit on a bench with some other people wearing the same outfit.” I thought of crawling under the table with embarrassment, but Justice Rehnquist graciously let me off the hook.
Gary S. Mayerson
New York City
A hilarious incident occurred during a visit Rehnquist paid to Seattle during his early years on the court. A local Republican, Chris Bayley, took Rehnquist to an athletic club for a game of squash or racquetball. After the game and a shower, Bayley and Rehnquist were naked in the locker room and encountered an equally naked long-serving local U.S. District Court judge. Bayley introduced Rehnquist and listened in growing horror to the following exchange, which amused Rehnquist:
Q: Where are you from, Bill?
A: I’m from Washington, D.C.
Q: What do you do there, Bill?
A: (after a pause) I’m a federal judge.
Q: You are? That’s great! I’m a federal judge, too.
Bayley steered Rehnquist away be fore the inevitable embarrassing moment for the local judge could occur.
Bainbridge Island, Wash.
Respectfully, it was a banal article, but for one horrible disclosure: The chief justice not only bet for money on presidential elections but had the audacity to attempt to withdraw from his likely illegal bet when it appeared that his court would decide the 2000 election between de jure President Al Gore and fiat president George W. Bush. The cat was out of the bag!
Just as one cannot withdraw from a consummated crime, one cannot eradicate an illegal conflict of interest. Although high court judges have the luxury of deciding their own recusal, money and family remain among two of the top five for per se recusal. I am distressed at the ABA Journal’s matter-of-fact publication of this excerpt from Herman J. Obermayer’s book. Perhaps democracy is not the best form of government, but at least as citizens we should have the right to question lawbreaking and what is now an obvious oligarchy.
Jeremy M. Miller
FACEBOOK FOR LAWYERS
Regarding “Saving Face,” March, I’m a first-year law student who has been using Facebook for a long time. I’m now discovering the difficulties of being a prospective lawyer and using Facebook.
Regarding photos of you tagged by someone else, there is an excellent setting that only allows you to see those. If there’s a photo someone posts that I like, I’ll ask for a copy and permission to post it on my profile.
I strongly recommend using friend lists. I use this feature zealously. For example, I have all of my law school classmates on one list and they are not able to see all parts of my profile. These are people I have to work with in a professional setting. I don’t feel like they need to know who I’m dating or what I did last weekend.
As another example, I have as Facebook friends a number of minors who are either family members or family friends. I have placed them on a list with very limited privileges. As a side note, this also may help you remember who someone is. I have high school friends who have gotten married and changed their names, which coupled with looking a lot different than when they were in high school can make it quite difficult to figure out who they are!
Facebook can be a great tool for personal and professional purposes. Just make sure you use the privacy settings and, as the author pointed out, the use of good judgment is key.
Jason W. West
I like Facebook, but you can just sense the hungry lawyers and marketing folks squirming in the background trying to figure out how to monetize the information of the 200 million users. Hence the terrible privacy policies (“everyone can see” by default—give me a break) that have ended up costing Facebook a series of class action lawsuits.
Robert S. Lawrence
I use LinkedIn for my professional contacts and Facebook for my personal ones. When someone who is more in the professional category asks me to be their Facebook friend, I decline and suggest LinkedIn, explain why and offer to help them set up their profile there.
I think both social networks serve a useful purpose. We just utilized Facebook to locate a missing person in an estate in just a few minutes.
In “Let’s Leave Politics Out of It,” March, ABA President Carolyn B. Lamm says judicial selection should be based on merit, rather than politics. This would be sensible if judges’ political views had no effect on the direction of the law. But our common-law system rests on judge-made law.
An honest discussion of judicial selection begins with the acknowledgment that judges (especially at the appellate level) are lawmakers. In a democracy, lawmakers are typically selected under the principle of “one person, one vote.” But the so-called merit selection plans typically advocated by the bar depart from this principle of equality. They generally make a lawyer’s vote worth more than another citizen’s vote in selecting the all-important judicial nominating commission.
Fortunately, this sort of bar favoritism is not the only alternative to electing judges. The third (and least bad) option is found in the U.S. Constitution: judges nominated by the executive and confirmed by the legislature. This set of checks and balances is consistent with democratic principles and avoids the problems of both judicial elections.
Stephen J. Ware