EPISODE 14: The Supreme Episode

The Supreme Court has only had seventeen men serve as Chief Justice. Chicago attorney Dan Cotter writes about all of them in The Chief Justices: The Seventeen Men of the Center Seat, Their Courts, and Their Times. While legal theory instructs lawyers to analyze the law and not the circumstances surrounding its creation, Cotter embraces an overall historical approach. Many Supreme Court justices have been defined by the landmark rulings they delivered. Cotter shows how some rulings, like Dred Scott, were predictable as Chief Justice Roger Taney in discussing the right of South Carolina to restrict the importation of free negroes shockingly wrote, “The African race in the United States even when free, are everywhere a degraded class, and exercise no political influence. The privileges they are allowed to enjoy are accorded to them as a matter of kindness and benevolence rather than of right.” On the other hand, Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered several pro-defendant rulings like Miranda and Gideon v. Wainwright despite a personal history that included his father being murdered in a case that was never resolved.

While Warren Burger’s court is typically defined by Roe v. Wade, Cotter writes that it did not cause an immediate stir and in 1975 John Paul Stevens was not asked a single question about abortion during his confirmation hearings. Cotter also discusses Burger’s odd decision to step down from the court to head-up the bicentennial commission. Host of Opening Doors to Resolution, mediator Steve Schulwolf, notes that Burger’s legacy also included actively promoting mediation and ADR. In a series of articles and speeches, the still Chief Justice lamented about the expense and pain involved in modern litigation. Burger’s call for attorneys to act as problem-solvers and peacemakers was the impetus to the modern mediation movement and inspires mediators to this day.