Associate Justice Lawrence Order arrives at work at eight or nine in the morning and meets with his clerks, who have been carefully chosen based on their law school accomplishments as well as on their lockstep agreement with his judicial views. As on most days, the first order of business is digging through the never-ending pile of applications for the court to hear cases. 150 of these cases are reviewed each week.
Today’s first case is Jones v. Mississippi. Lawyers representing Jones argue that Mississippi’s malfunctioning electric chair, commonly known as “Sparky,” botched his execution, setting his hair on fire and preventing him from going to heaven to spend blissful eternity with his dead relatives. The lawyers argue that this is a violation of the Eight Amendment to the Constitution which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.” This case has made its way up through the court system, with both sides losing and then successfully appealing, so it appears to be the sort of legal quandary the Supreme Court might want to resolve.
Although most cases presented to the Court are never heard, this one seems like a good candidate. The Court has gone back and forth on capital punishment, banning it entirely on Eighth Amendment grounds in the 1970s, and then reversing that decision a few years later. This case could result in a number of outcomes: Allowing Mississippi to continue using “Sparky,” banning the use of electric chairs and enforcing stricter rules for executions to ensure minimal suffering for the condemned, or even banning capital punishment entirely. Bet they’re wishing they had a three-sided coin right about now. Justice Order and his clerks have already read the case, and they engage in a spirited discussion about it. After all, what is cruel and unusual punishment? Does it have to be both cruel and unusual to qualify, or will one of the two suffice? Since Justice Order is an “originalist,” meaning he attempts to interpret the Constitution exactly how he believes the founders meant it when it was written, he ponders what James Madison would have considered cruel and unusual. Aside from being the target of “short” jokes.
Ultimately, Justice Order decides the case should be heard, since this is a good opportunity to set a clear precedent. If three other justices agree with him, Jones v. Mississippi will appear on the Court’s docket in a few months.
After going over a few more cases, none of which meet Justice Order’s strict standards, it’s time to break for lunch. As with most of the justices, Justice Order usually lunches with his clerks, a group of bright, talented young men and women to whom he is something of a father figure. At lunch, he discusses his love of big-game hunting and his hatred of communism. The clerks nod repeatedly. Oh, how he loves his yes men.
The afternoon schedule consists of conference, which is when the justices sit around a table and take turns opining about a case that was recently argued. Today’s case is Woe v. Rade, which the justices all agree bears an uncanny similarity to some case about abortion from a while ago. Woe argues a constitutional right to an abortion, which Justice Order and his more conservative colleagues feel is ridiculous. “It never mentions a right to abortion once in the Constitution!” Justice Order argues at one point.
However, left-leaning Justice Peaceman believes that the Constitution is a “living document” that should be interpreted broadly within the context of the changing times. She also thinks it should be fed three square meals and watered twice daily. She might be taking her position a bit too literally.
She argues that there is an inherent right to privacy in the Constitution and that an appropriate modern interpretation would protect abortion rights.
The swing vote seems to be Justice Lookatme, who is always the swing vote. Yep, he’s a real swinger. Justice Lookatme gives a long sweeping speech that nobody understands, finally declaring that “Liberty finds no refuge in a jurisprudence of doubt.” A couple of hours later, the justices discover that he has voted in favor of Woe, affirming access to abortion as a fundamental right. This stance mirrors the Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, the old case the justices couldn’t quite remember, so they appear consistent, which is important for the Court’s image. The “bad boy” image they were going for a few years back didn’t really take.
Despite the long day, Justice Order’s work is still not done. He wants to finish a draft of his opinion on White Guy v. Berkeley, a case that evaluates the fairness of racial quotas in college admissions. If he can finish the draft tonight, the other justices will have a copy waiting for them on their desks the next morning. Then the give and take of notes, edits, and debating will occur, as justices on both sides of the case attempt to build a consensus. Sure, being a Supreme Court Justice is a lot of work, but it’s also a dream job, and Justice Order wouldn’t want to do anything else. Except maybe act, but like that’s a career.