Lyle Denniston, perhaps our most senior Supreme Court reporter, is skeptical about judges stepping into the public forum. His case in point is the Senate testimony on campaign finance reform by Justice Stevens.
Denniston’s commentary begins:
“In ways large and small, the idealized expectation that the Supreme Court will stay outside the political arena continues to diminish in a country with polarized partisanship and fragmented cultural values. One reason is that those on opposite sides of the divide increasingly seek to use the Court to advance their own agendas — and, increasingly, succeed at it.
Another reason, though, is that the Justices are moving regularly into the public realm, and taking their deep divisions with them. In short, they frequently move from the bench to the podium, and use public platforms to defend their judicial records – at times, to settle old scores or to stir up old wounds.
In some ways, this may be a welcome new form of transparency for an institution long known for its capacity to keep its own secrets. But it also may be an unhealthy turn toward public self-justification, a reluctance to let the judicial record speak for itself….”
It is in this context that another breakthrough in public advocacy has come: retired Justice John Paul Stevens took the witness chair on Wednesday before the Senate Rules Committee — his first appearance before a Senate committee since his nomination hearings thirty-nine years ago, he noted. He was there to promote reform of campaign finance law.