Does Geography Affect Appointments to the Supreme Court?

It certainly used to.

Perhaps the most obvious examples are those from the early 19th century.  Appointments of new justices were once tied to the creation of new circuit courts.  And that was for good reason:  Circuit courts were not the intermediate courts of appeals of today (with few exceptions, the most notable of which were the “Midnight Judges” that served from 1801 until 1802); they were largely nisi prius courts, functioning alongside district courts, with only limited appellate review.  But they did not have their own judges.  Various combinations of justices from the Supreme Court and judges from the district courts sat to form the circuit courts.

When Congress created the Seventh Circuit in 1807, therefore, which consisted of the new states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio, it required that the new justice assigned to that seat hail from there.  The result was Jefferson’s appointment of Thomas Todd of Kentucky. 

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Televising the Supreme Court

Last month, Tony Mauro published a column in the National Law Journal (found here), highlighting the results of a public-opinion poll that researchers at Farleigh Dickinson University conducted to determine the level of support for televising proceedings at the Supreme Court.  Sixty-one percent of Americans, the poll found, believed that televising the Court’s proceedings would be “good for democracy.”  And that result, compared to the twenty-six percent of respondents who thought television would “undermine the authority and dignity of the court,” suggested that the researchers had found overwhelming public support for the idea — indeed, bipartisan support.  For seventy-one percent of those who identified themselves as liberals favored the idea, and fifty-five percent of self-identifying conservatives did the same.

The readers of this blog are undoubtedly familiar with the essential contours of the debate over televising the Court’s proceedings.  Proponents argue that cameras would provide the public with greater access to an important public institution.  They suggest following the mold of what C-SPAN has done for public debates and committee hearings in Congress.  Opponents, essentially, believe that what might have worked for Congress will not work for the Court.  They contend that cameras will alter the dynamic in the courtroom, allowing participants to play to a larger audience in a way that would diminish the value of oral arguments.  Litigants may address the Court with less candor, preferring to speak in platitudes designed for the evening news, and the justices themselves may be less willing to ask pointed questions, lest they be misconstrued by a larger audience. 

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