U.S. Supreme Court

Which justices give the most speeches? Sotomayor tops law prof's 'celebrity index'

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Sonia Sotomayor

Photo of Sonia Sotomayor by collection of the Supreme Court of the United States, Steve Petteway, via Wikimedia Commons.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor tops a “celebrity index” developed by a law professor who is documenting the increase in reported public appearances by U.S. Supreme Court justices.

Law professor Richard Hasen of the University of California at Irvine looked at news reports of appearances and interviews by justices since 1960 and found a dramatic increase in what he calls extrajudicial speech, the New York Times reports.

From 1960 to 1969, there were 196 publicly reported appearances and interviews by justices. In the 1970s, there were only 95. From 2005 to 2014 the number rose to 880, a ninefold fold increase over the 1970s.

In an essay titled: “Celebrity Justice: Supreme Court Edition,” Hasen cautions that he is measuring reported appearances rather than actual appearances. But he also sees more at play.

“Justices seem to find it harder to resist the temptation to remain in their cloistered halls,” Hasen writes. “Part of it may be that there is a new equilibrium of celebrity justice. That is, once a few justices are out there speaking and interacting with the public, other justices feel the urge to do the same.”

Some justices also feel the need to defend their rulings from judicial attack, and to preach to the faithful, becoming “public gladiators in a national fight over the court and its jurisprudence,” Hasen says.

Hasen arrived at his celebrity index by dividing a justice’s appearances by his or her years on the court. Justice Sonia Sotomayor had the highest score, 13.8 annual reported appearances. Justice Stephen G. Breyer was second, with a score of 12.5. Next is Justice Arthur J. Goldberg, followed by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, John G. Roberts Jr. and Elena Kagan.

Hasen noted that three liberal justices—Ginsburg, Sotomayor and now retired Justice John Paul Stevens—have addressed the liberal American Constitution Society. Conservative justices Scalia, Alito and Thomas, on the other hand, have addressed the conservative Federalist Society. He couldn’t find any record of crossover in speeches to these groups by any sitting justice, which sends an unfortunate message, he told the Times.

“It gives the impression to the public that the justices are on one side or the other,” he said.

Updated at 9:15 a.m. to add a link to Hasen’s essay.

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