If Winston was right, what do you believe when you become 65, or 70 and so forth, particularly if you are a senior status federal district judge?* Scott Greenfield raised that point recently in an exchange with one of his readers over the hubbub surrounding my post on Hobby Lobby.
The exchange went this way:
July 9, 2014 at 9:03 am
Judge Kopf appears to speak with the freedom of one who has accepted his own mortality. I don’t always agree with him, but his writing is always worth the time to read.
SHG Post author
July 9, 2014 at 9:12 am
That’s a very interesting way to put it, “accepted his own mortality,” given that he suffers from Hodgkins Lymphoma. There seems to be a thing with senior judges, seen with Judge John Kane in Colorado, Judge Weinstein in EDNY, and Judge Kopf, where a judge comes to grips with the fact that he’s never going to make it to the Supremes, has a future limited by the good years and stamina he has left, and no longer feels the need to court anyone’s approval.
This frees the life-tenured judge to spend his remaining time on the bench doing what he believes is right, no matter who he pisses off in the process.
Judge Kopf and the Appearance of Impropriety (Update), Simple Justice (July 8, 2014).
Let’s assume for a moment that SHG is right. That is, an older judge who takes senior status is likely to:
“come to grips with the fact that he’s never going to make it to the Supremes, has a future limited by the good years and stamina he has left, and no longer feels the need to court anyone’s approval. . . . This frees the life-tenured judge to spend his remaining time on the bench doing what he believes is right, no matter who he pisses off in the process.”
Assuming Scott is right, we ought to ask ourselves some questions. Here are four to start the discussion:
1. Can you generalize regarding most senior status federal judges? In other words, do most seniors speak their mind more freely when they take senior status?
2. Is the “freedom” that Scott alludes to for senior judges a good thing or a bad thing? Or should senior district judges act just like their active counterparts?
3. Is the “freedom” that Scott alludes to for senior judges likely to be exercised in one direction (“liberal” or “conservative”)? Does that matter?
4. What does Scott’s conclusion say for the appointment of young judges, like those in their early 40s?
I am most interested in your take on district judges. Stray, if you must, to appellate judges or the Supreme Court but focus if you can on district judges These are just the high points. You can surely add others to flesh out Scott’s intriguing conclusion. In the past, I had not thought too much about Scott’s point, but, now that I have, I think it is pretty important.
Tell me what you think.
*“Senior judges, who essentially provide volunteer service to the courts, typically handle about 15 percent of the federal courts’ workload annually.” FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS, United States Courts (last accessed July 15, 2014).