Sunday, January 4, 2009

Celebrity Justices

If I live to be 300 years old (i.e., almost as old as Justice Stevens), I will never understand the Supreme Court's vehement opposition to cameras in the courtroom, particularly in light of the recent live broadcast of oral arguments before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.  After all, for hardcore appellate argument fans (all four of us), this is backwards ... to say the least.  It's like banning televised Ultimate Fighting Championship events and putting on sorority girl pillow fights in its place, except that I'm slightly less likely to get divorced when my wife sees the 2nd Circuit pay-per-view charges on our cable bill. 

I just don't get why the justices find the idea of being on television so repugnant.  For example, Justice Souter is on record saying that, "The day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it's going to roll over my dead body."  Many commentators, myself included, have asked, "How could we tell?"

Seriously, with the exception of Justice Thomas, most Supreme Court justices are completely anonymous.  In fact, Justice Breyer walked into a Massachusetts court room to report for jury duty a few years back and wasn't recognized by a single person -- including the court staff and ... get this ... the presiding judge.  At one point, the judge looked down at Breyer and said, "Breyer?  Breyer?  Boy, that name sounds familiar.  I know!  You're the ice cream guy, right?"

Would that happen to a key member of any other branch of government?  For instance, is there anyone in America who doesn't recognize Barack Obama or John McCain on sight?  Or can you imagine, say, Hillary Clinton walking into a clothing store and having the salesperson show her a dress or a skirt?  Likewise, can you imagine Senator Larry Craig walking into a public restroom and not having people racing for the door?  Of course not!  We often know these people better than we know our own family members and certainly better than we know the justices.  Why?  Because they are on TV!

Likewise, our Supreme Court justices need to be on TV as well.  For one, the misperception of the Court as a collection of Ivy League elitists will be shattered once and for all when the public learns that only eight of the nine justices graduated from Ivy League law schools.  Second, with budget cuts affecting the administration of justice on all levels, the justices could use their celebrity to bring in much-needed revenue to the federal court system.

For example, the Olympic Committee brings in millions and millions of dollars in additional revenue each games by designating, say, Coke as the official soft drink of the Olympics or Snickers as the official candy bar or Dianabol as the official steroid, etc.  Why couldn't the Supreme Court obtain sponsors as well for its broadcasts?  "Tonight's oral arguments are brought to you by WestLaw, the official electronic research tool of the Supreme Court.  WestLaw, when making stuff up just won't do."

Also, the justices could use their newfound celebrity to supplement their meager salaries.  It should be an embarrassment to all of us that Supreme Court justices make less than partners in large law firms, associates in large law firms and, in New York City, receptionists at large law firms.

However, as the hosts of their own reality TV show, they will be able to cash in like never before.  For example, normally when a justice writes his memoirs, they sell about as well as the Elliott Spitzer Guide to Love and Monogamy.  But all of that will change when the justices have the opportunity to incessantly plug their latest book right from the bench.  "So, is it your contention that the dormant Commerce Clause, something covered extensively in my new book, If You Do Not Rehearse, We Must Reverse: 10 Keys to Effective Oral Argument Before the Supreme Court, which will be in stores on Tuesday but you can pre-order right now on ... what was I saying again?"

And if their show is a hit, the sky is the limit.  Celebrities like Paris Hilton make millions of dollars in personal appearance fees by appearing at night clubs and other "hip" venues.  Certainly, the justices could do likewise by appearing at say, hip-replacement centers or Hometown Buffet grand openings.  In fact, if they hire a certain legal humorist turned Supreme Court Justice publicist, they won't even have to attend these events to make out like bandits.  For example, instead of having Justice Ginsburg attend the Annual Appellate Expo and taking pictures with the attendees for $10 a pop, we could rent out this cardboard cut-out instead.

Or maybe not ...

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