Locomotives and the Supreme Court

Things lose their utility with the passage of time. No matter how innovative and useful they were when first invented, most wind up in a scrap pile, or at the very best, in a museum.

Take Kitty Hawk – the first powered airplane in the history of mankind. A major breakthrough in the history of technology, it is of no use today, neither for transportation nor combat. Or how about another technological wonder – the first locomotive, built two hundred years ago that could pull a then-jaw-dropping twenty ton? There is no way for it to haul a today’s train.

Capacity matters. It is not enough to get the concept right; if a centuries-old invention is still to be of use today, its sheer brute power – the wattage that it runs on – needs to be sufficient for today’s tasks.

As far as industry is concerned, that is well understood; no one is trying to use the earliest locomotive to haul the latest train.

But look at law – and you will see a stunningly different picture.

Almost coeval with the first locomotive, the US Supreme Court started its work of giving the nation the ultimate legal guidance when that nation was comprised of five million people – roughly, 60% of today’s population of just the city of New York.

The nation has since grown sixty-fold, to three hundred million. Entire industries that were unheard-of and undreamed-of came into being; America’s lifestyle totally changed; the pace of life dramatically increased, introducing new and yet newer situations that bump against the old constraints and need resolution in the Court. And yet, the physical capacity of the Supreme Court to resolve new issues did not change one bit since the time when the very first locomotive was a grand technological wonder.

The stasis in its capacity is inherent in the very nature of the Supreme Court. Other institutions, be they governmental or private, can increase their capacity when needed by hiring help. The President, for example, deals only with the overall direction of policies but is not personally involved in the minutia of every aspect of every branch of the executive body. That would be physically impossible for him to handle, so he delegates his powers to departments where thousands work on implementing his policies. But the Supreme Court cannot delegate its tasks without defeating its very purpose of having the wisest and best legal minds (singled out as such by the President and confirmed to be such by Congress) deal with the issues brought to Court’s attention. The tasks of selecting cases, of their examination, of coming up with the decisions have to be performed by the justices themselves. Delegate any of these tasks to other, of necessity lesser, minds, and you no longer have the Supreme Court making the Supreme Court’s decisions.

The Supreme Court being of essence a single judge composed of nine individuals, it can bear only as heavy a workload as can be physically handled by any regular judge – a judge who works five days a week, eight hours a day, two thousand hours a year.

Hence, there is a definite physical limit to the number of cases the Supreme Court can possibly consider, as each case requires a lot of work. First, plaintiffs’ papers need to be read, then defendants’, than the decision needs to be made on whether to take the case; and then begins the big task of reading through the entire argument of both sides, of reaching a Court decision, of articulating it in a properly-worded opinion. The amount of time consumed by these tasks ultimately determines the limitations of the Supreme Court workload. Can it hear a million cases a year? No, because that would leave it with only 7.2 seconds per case. Ten thousand that actually get filed? No way – 12 minutes per case is hardly enough to even read a 30-page initial filing. One thousand? That’s better, at two hours per case, thought hardly sufficient to even type up the opinion, leaving alone the reading of hundreds of pages of briefs. Two hundred? At ten hours per case, that’s about adequate – and the actual figure of the cases that the Supreme Court takes annually is actually a bit lower – being less than 2% of the petitions, over 98% being denied.

One hears that the Supreme Court only takes the cases that it considers of constitutional impact, and it is fascinating that the number of “constitutional” cases matches so well the number of cases the Court can physically handle, and that a sixty-fold increase in the number of litigants over the last two centuries did not produce any increase in the number of such cases whatsoever – leaving alone a to-be-expected sixty-fold increase.

And then, there is an equally fascinating discrepancy between the function of the Supreme Court as perceived by the ordinary Americans, and the perception of this function by the justices themselves. Why would one appeal to the Supreme Court if not because he or she feels that the lower courts’ verdict was unjust, and needs to be reversed? Why go to the Supreme Court, if not in pursuit of justice? But astonishingly, the Supreme Court tells us, via its rules that it is not a place where one should come to in order to have an unjust verdict overturned: “A petition for a writ of certiorari is rarely granted when the asserted error consists of erroneous factual findings or misapplication of a properly stated rule of law” – or, translating from legalese into human, “the lower court did not take facts into account, or acted in an arbitrary manner by deciding against you when the law explicitly states that the court should have decided for you? Too bad. We cannot be of help.” One wonders, what is the purpose of the Supreme Court than? Who needs it? Whom does it serve? Whose cases do get considered?

The last of these questions is not a rhetorical one, and has a precise answer. As is always the case with a scarce resource – be it meat in the former Soviet Union or services of the Supreme Court in the United States, connections is everything. When it comes to the all-important stage of selecting the cases that are to be heard, the Court operates strictly along the lines of the “old boys’ network” – precisely as one would expect given the circumstances of high demand and low supply. The inner workings of the Supreme Court are covered in strictest secrecy, lest the lesser mortals get to see legal giants’ clay feet; yet those close enough to be in a position to make highly intelligent guesses if not actually know – like law professor Jeffrey Rosen of George Washington University writing in the New York Times tell us of powerful lawyers – “powerful” because they know the justices personally, having previously served as Supreme Court clerks, whose petitions are much more likely to be taken than those of an average Tom, Dick or Harry; and current clerks are hardly passive bystanders – “the vital task of selecting those few cases [that the Court is capable of considering] is substantially delegated to young law clerks who also help write the justices’ opinions,” we are unequivocally told in a New York Times article by professor Paul Carrington of Duke University Law School. So much for the myth that cases brought before the Supreme Court are decided by the Supreme Court.

This is not to say that the justices are bad people. They operate the way they do of necessity, simply because the sheer lack of physical capacity does not allow them to operate differently. They only do what is natural to do. A Soviet meat salesman was not a bad person either; he would have been perfectly happy to sell meat to everyone – but he just did not have meat for everyone. So he prioritized. Better pieces immediately went to friends and family; the fellow-vendors of other necessities were served next, in a quid-pro-quo arrangement; local authorities took their share immediately after; and the rest of the populace had to just wait in a line for hours, and hopefully, though not necessarily, get something. Justices of the Supreme Court who are dispensing a product which is as scarce, naturally operate in the exact same way. (Though what is not natural is the fact that the Supreme Court managed recently to give one of the precious, less-than-two-hundred-a-year hearings to Guantanamo detainees – while denying over nine thousand, eight hundred fellow-Americans this privilege of being heard.)

Well, but can anything be done about it?

It can. For one, the currently employed legal procedure that is based on individual judges’ “judicial philosophy” and hence is highly arbitrary and subject to gross abuse can be vastly improved upon – as suggested in my previous piece called “Judges, Justice, and a Gulf in Between;” perhaps the key process of selecting cases for Court’s consideration should be made public and entrusted to a different body, not the justices themselves so as to ensure transparency and hence, fairness – so regular people have as good a chance to be heard by the Supreme Court as do the nabobs who can hire justices’ favorite lawyers; even the sheer number of the Supreme Courts should be increased – preferably, 60-fold, in direct proportion to the rise in population – to allow them to adequately meet the needs of the nation instead of truncating those needs, in imitation of Procrustus of Greek mythology, to the physical capacity of the Court.

“This is not the liberty which we can hope, that no grievance ever should arise in the Commonwealth – that let no man in this world expect; but when complaints are freely heard, deeply considered and speedily reformed, then is the utmost bound of civil liberty attained that wise men look for,” John Milton wrote three and a half centuries ago in his immortal Areopagitica; and, it being that the very raison d’ĂȘtre for the courts is to provide people the ability to have their complaints “freely heard, deeply considered and speedily reformed,” courts should be doing just that. But how can this task be accomplished today, when its chief instrument, the Supreme Court of the United States, has neither the capacity, nor interest, to do so?

The Supreme Court of two hundred years ago that still operates today cannot be expected to provide adequate legal services to a nation that had since grown sixty-fold, any more than a two-hundred year old locomotive rolled out of a museum can be expected to pull a today’s freight train. Today’s American has a mere 1.6% of the access to the Supreme Court that his ancestor had two hundred years ago; simply put, we have only one sixtieth of the amount of justice of the first US citizens, all because the Supreme Court ran out of capacity to hear cases long, long ago. The way of fixing the Supreme Court capacity problem, thus making it provide real justice to real people rather than propound once in a while some abstruse “legal principle” as it does today, may not be immediately obvious, but for the sake of us all it needs to be actively sought out – and found.

Supreme Court Role Law Or Justice? – 1965 Editorial

Should the U.S. Supreme Court be a place of justice, or of law?

Though this question at first glance may appear to be one of those semantic traps – such as, “Have you stopped beating your wife? – its answer vitally affects your life and mine.

The traditional view of the court is that it is the final authority on the Constitution. Its only task, say political purists, is to decide whether laws passed by the legislative branch of the government are really legal.

Since the days of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Supreme Court has been undergoing a gradual change. It was he who initiated the practice of appointing “liberal” politicians to the bench instead of experienced judges.

Those of us today in their late forties can remember well Roosevelt’s audacious attempt to “pack” the high tribunal. He tried to get Congress to increase the number of judges from nine to 12 so he could appoint additional “sympathetic” politicians and thwart decisions which were overturning many of his New Deal ideas.

Congress, which until then had blindly rubber-stamped Roosevelt’s wildest proposals, finally rebelled and refused to tamper with the court machinery. It was the first twinge of alarm by the party faithful who had ridden into office on the Roosevelt landslide.

With the recent nomination, and certain confirmation, of former New Dealer Abe Fortas to the court, the transition from law to justice is complete. The test of a law now will be, “Is it fair?” rather than “Is it legal?”

The philosophical approach of the Supreme Court justices had remained about evenly divided between the jurists and the reformers until the death of Chief Justice Fred Vinson in 1953. Then President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed California Governor Earl Warren to the post of Chief Justice. Unknowingly, Ike tipped the balance.

Warren had been a popular and able governor. He had been careful not to align himself with the liberals or conservatives. The mood of the country was “middle of the road,” and Warren seemed to be a model of neutrality.

Once relieved of the necessity of winning votes, Warren revealed himself to be a champion of individual rights as HE, not Congress, saw them.

After only two years on the bench, he wrote the now famous decision outlawing school segregation. He led the bench in abolishing school prayer and in reapportioning state legislatures on a “one man, one vote” basis. He also joined in the decision freeing some communists convicted of sedition, for which the John Birch Society still demands his impeachment.

For the past decade, Warren has consistently voted with the “activist” group of justices who evidently hold to the theory they can, and should, correct the shortcomings of a timid Congress.

Arthur Goldberg, during his short term on the Supreme Court, identified himself with the Warren outlook.

Now U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Goldberg was a liberal, labor-supported Jew. In these days of minority deference, our presidents have felt it necessary to keep one justice of these exact political qualifications on the bench. Consequently, President Lyndon B. Johnson has tapped his long time friend, Fortas, to replace Goldberg. The balance for “fair” decisions remains unchanged.

There is no objection at all, on my part, to Fortas’ neat appeal to an important block of minorities. He is just the counterpart of the conservative southern Protestant and the moderate midwestern Catholic also carefully represented on the court. It’s likely a Negro will be the next justice.

I do find disappointing, however, the present state of political affairs which make such opportunistic appointments necessary.

Fortas is one more of a long line of non-judicial Supreme Court Justices to troop to the bench. He was general counsel of Roosevelt’s Public Works Administration at 29 and undersecretary of the Interior at 32. Now 55, he is described by President Johnson as “a man of humane and deeply compassionate feelings toward his fellow man – a champion of our liberties.”

Inevitably, the rhetorical question suggests itself, “Is it the duty of a Supreme Court justice to champion causes with enthusiasm, or arbitrate disputes impartially?

As a senior partner of a prominent Washington D.C. law firm, Fortas has defended such clients as Owen Lattimore, the U.S. State Department specialist accused of lying about Communist associations; and Bobby Baker, former Democratic Senate aide whose lucrative business dealings came under Congressional investigation last year.

More recently, Fortas attracted public notice when he attempted to get Washington D.C. newspapers to suppress the story last fall about the arrest of President Johnson’s aide, Walter Jenkins, on morals charges.

Congressman Durward G. Hall summed up my misgivings when he said recently before the House of Representatives, “There is a serious question whether Fortas will be able to exercise independence of his ties with the President – he has been a quiet participant in some of the more dubious transactions of the Johnson Administration.”

Many Americans, including myself, have two minds concerning the conflict between justice and law. Unfortunately, the two are not synonymous.

In the hand of shysters, bureaucrats, and grafters our laws are dangerous weapons. Somewhere the spirit of the law must prevail over arbitrary letters.

Yet, the personal convictions of men beyond reach of the electorate can not be allowed to transcend the will of the people as expressed by duly elected representatives.

Until there is less politics and more statesmanship on the Supreme Court bench, we will be better served by a court of law than one of men.

August 20, 1965

Click here to see this article on Lindsey Williams’s website

Criminal Justice and Its Subfields

Criminal justice is the means through which justice can be dispensed by the government and social institutions in order to keep crime and criminal minds under control. Criminal justice as a profession is highly essential in order to keep justice intact in the homeland and ensure peace and harmony. There are various challenges which are faced by the government and various welfare agencies to ensure peace.

The various other subjects which are linked to criminal justice are sociology, psychology, science and communication.

Sociology is a subject which deals with studying people and their behavior.
Psychology is about the way a person thinks, which keeps changing according to his family, society, workplace and community.
Science is the practical and reasoning field which looks at things people and situations critically.
Communication is the means through which a person expresses his feelings, emotions, needs and desires. The importance of communication is increasing with the highly changing nature of the society with the advent of technology.

Fields

3 fields in which a person can continue a future career in criminal justice are:

Law enforcement

Forensic science

Homeland security

Future Job prospects

The various job prospects in criminal justice are:

Correctional officer

A correctional officer is the one who looks after the inmates in prison who are awaiting trial or are serving a term. It is a dangerous profession as the correctional officer could face injuries from inmates and the growth rate in this profession is seen at being 5% from 2010.

Courtroom reporter

A reporter who reports on court room proceedings has a lot of say in influencing the media and it is highly essential that he takes vital information along with him to be reported.

Crime scene examiner

The person who investigates, collects evidences, from the scene of crime is the crime scene investigator and he plays a major role in solving a case. A criminal mind and his next move is well understood by a crime scene examiner. His observations help in solving a case.

Detective

A detective is a private investigator or a member of the police service who investigates on matters of national importance, historical crimes and those crimes which are not solved easily. A detective helps in law enforcement in a country.

Lawyer

A lawyer is the person who practices law as a solicitor, advocate, counselor, attorney, barrister and helps in dispensing justice. He is the person who solicits for his clients. They are there to ensure that no person is indulging in immoral or unethical activities. A person who is afflicted regarding something unjust done to him approach lawyers to seek for legal help.

Paralegal

A paralegal assistant is the one which assists lawyers in their profession. Paralegal and legal assistants help lawyers in maintaining files, conducting research, organizing documents and so on.

Other careers related to criminal justice are working as a police officer, private investigator, probation officer to name a few.

Criminal justice is becoming highly essential in this fast paced life modern life where the number of crime rates is increasing and the need to dispense justice is increasing. The various careers which are related to criminal justice give an understanding of how these systems ensure peace, solitude and harmony to people.

Degree in Criminal Justice

People who graduate with a degree in criminal justice are equipped to perform all sorts of public services. Many of these related careers are exciting and come with lots of responsibilities and rewards. At times, however, these jobs can be both dangerous and stressful. These degrees are classified as a major in the social sciences. This is because the nature of criminal justice is to explain the patterns of criminal behavior and to decipher society’s ability to control crime and criminals. It is all about choosing the correct steps to achieve justice and ensure the quality of life and safety of civilians. If you decide to earn a degree in this field you will be studying many different topics, including: sociology, legal studies, psychology, political science, forensic science, urban studies, public administration, and philosophy. A major or degree in criminal justice is designed to focus on the defining factors, causes, and preventative measures related to crime in modern society; it also focuses on practical legal measures needed.

These majors learn, in great detail, about the legal and correctional systems in the United States. They study the philosophy of punishment, and the ethical codes of behavior that are used by society in the application of this studiously gained knowledge. Graduates granted degrees are prepared for careers in law enforcement, victim services, court administration, corrections, and to begin furthering their degrees in law school or graduate programs.

Study programs for criminal behavior and law enforcement are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Professionals who work in modern police forces, correctional facilities, court systems, and related criminal justice agencies are expected to have a broad, well-rounded knowledge of the social sciences. As American law grows increasingly complex, society demands more from its criminal justice professionals (and students). The standard of education for these people is higher today than ever before and the bar is only going to become continually higher.

That being said, criminal justice is an important, meaningful, and exciting career and anyone interested in pursuing such a career should be encouraged to check out the many wonderful opportunities for study both in American universities and with more flexible online or community-based programs. There is so much a person can do with a criminal justice degree and it is a field will only continue to grow with technology and other modern advancements.

There are a wide variety of College Criminal Justice jobs available to those seeking them; this is a field with high job security and very high career advancement opportunity.

The Difference Between Court Reporting and Legal Transcription

Many people aren’t sure what the difference is between a court reporter and a legal transcriptionist and might believe the two to be pretty much the same. While similar in some ways, there are also some crucial differences. One major difference is that a court reporter transcribes speech in real time while a transcriptionist transcribes recordings and has the advantage of replaying quickly spoken dialog and difficult to understand speech. In addition, the two have very different educational requirements.

Court Reporters
While the primary duty of a court reporter is indeed the real time verbatim transcription of the dialog taking place in the court room, there are actually some additional duties that a he or she may handle depending on the court room and the judge he or she works with. Sometimes they may be looked to for additional tasks such as:

  • Additional research for items entered into record
  • Real time reporting on what has already been recorded
  • Providing notary public services
  • Administering oaths to witnesses
  • Preparing documents and other administrative duties prior to trial

Regardless of the method used for court reporting (stenotype reporting, voice writing) the academic background is essentially the same. Formal schooling and licensure or certification is required. Academic programs range from two to four years and classes include legal terminology and procedures, legal research, medical vocabulary, business law, and the English language, grammar and mechanics. Some states require a state license while others accept certifications granted by court reporter associations. These certifications require the passing of an exam or exams along with earning continuing education credits.

In addition to academics, college programs also teach the actual skills needed to do the real time verbatim transcription. Court reporters don’t use regular keyboards to record speech but rather stenotype machines. These machines have keys but don’t look like the keyboard you’re used to using. They have far fewer keys. Court reporters type a phonetic code instead of typing out entire words letter by letter. This enables them to type in the neighborhood of 250 – 300 words per minute.

Another type of court reporting involves a stenomask used by a voice writer. The reporter verbally repeats everything that is being spoken into the stenomask along with descriptions of emotional displays and other relevant events in the courtroom. The stenomask is placed on the face which prevents others from hearing the voice writer speak. Voice writing is less common than the stenotype method but takes less time to learn.

Legal Transcriptionists
Confusion sometimes arises with the job description of the legal transcriptionist. Many imagine the job to be a blending of numerous roles including those of a paralegal, legal secretary, court reporter and transcriptionist. While each of these areas can be important toward providing professional and quality legal transcription, they are not required backgrounds of the legal transcriptionist.

Although there is no formal certification or degree that is required in order for an individual to become a legal transcriptionist, the best level of service can be obtained from those who specialize in legal transcription. Likewise, transcriptionists who have a two or four year degree in criminal justice, legal or paralegal studies can often provide a greater level of service overall. In lieu of a degree, working as a legal secretary or assistant might give the individual some of the knowledge and skills necessary.

While the transcriptionist and the court reporter both should have an understanding of the legal system and its language, the transcriptionist does not typically work in a courtroom. A legal transcriptionist may work as a freelancer or in-house for a transcription company, law firm, government agency, or corporation. Legal transcriptionists transcribe recorded depositions, hearings, witness interviews, interrogations, 911 calls, dictation, and documents such as hand written letters and notes, affidavits, identification papers, pleadings, probates, and anything else legal or relating to a legal case.

Court Reporters Working Outside the Courtroom
Like legal transcriptionists, court reporters may also work as freelancers. In addition, they may also work for corporations, government agencies and others. While a transcriptionist will transcribe recorded depositions and hearings, a court reporter will attend the proceeding and transcribe it in real time.

Freelance court reporters or stenographers will also attend speeches, meetings, press conferences, seminars and anything else that requires a written record. In fact, court reporters are also finding a lot of work doing real time broadcast captioning. This is often used for live broadcasts of speeches, sports events, news programs, and legal or legislative proceedings – just to name a few. Think of the black boxes with white letters on the television screen. Captions aren’t always done in real time – but when necessary it’s a court reporter/stenographer that’s up for the task.