Friday, September 16, 2005

U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens

Shortly after noon on Thursday my boss whirlwinded into my office and told me that I was going to a luncheon meeting with him. I kicked off my bike cleats, yanked my heels on and was out the door with him in less than a minute to hail a cab.

The luncheon was to present the winners of the John Paul Stevens award, and the namesake of the award was present to speak.

My boss wove us through the throng – seemingly knowing everyone we passed – until we found our table. I followed behind him like a puppy.
Everyone made introductions at our table and the salad course was served. As the waiters removed our plates, all of the speakers and special guests were announced. Below is the order of the tables flanking the podium (it is important later):

White Guy, White Woman, Black Guy, WG, WG, (WG) Justice Stevens & Wife, WG, WG
—Podium—
WG, Brown Guy, WG, WG, WG, WW, WG, WG, WG

The warm-up introduction was laden with sports references. Justice Stevens through the opening pitch at the Cubs game the night before, and several speakers addressed this fact. About a third of the words spoken involved sports. Blech.

When the Justice spoke, he too, mentioned the ongoing Red Sox wagers between himself and Rehnquist. He said that it was always, ‘the first order of business on Monday mornings.’ Great – the Supreme Court Justices are gambling in the halls of the Supreme Court weekly. Is this even legal?

He spoke of his three favorite Rehnquist decisions – one of them was memorable simply because Rehnquist did it so quickly to end the term so that Justice Brenner could make his ferry reservations to Martha’s Vineyard. What a guy – he writes an important opinion on a case between the U.S. government and Iran two weeks faster than expected so that another Justice’s vacation plans don’t get messed up.

Then the awards were announced and the necessary self-congratulating of the legal profession began. Dear Lord, this type of talk is so sickening it makes me want to scream. I became nauseous when I was sworn into the Illinois Bar upon hearing this language. "You are becoming part of the great tradition of justice; the best legal system in the world; the most open system that brings justice to all corners of the country....blah....blah...blah ad nauseum." Yesterday was the same bullshit.

Here is what I have learned in law school and as an attorney: The legal world is open only to those with money and resources. The legal world is primarily used to distribute money. The legal world almost always upholds the status quo. Lawyers and Judges mold the system to perpetuate their power in society.

Fairness and Justice have very, very little to do with it. As much as we speak about activist judges, the courts are rarely a means for social change. The few cases that actually drove changes in society are vastly overwhelmed by the weight of opinions that merely uphold the current social systems.

One of the professors at my law school was famous for scrawling the words ‘Fairness’ and ‘Justice’ on the chalkboard on the first day of class. He then turned to the class and instructed him that he never wanted to hear these words in his classroom. He explained that these words have no place in the classroom, the legal profession or the courtroom. He is Judge Posner, of the Seventh Circuit Federal Court, the level of courts just below the U.S. Supreme Court. As harsh and unbelievable as it seemed at the time, I much prefer this type of honesty to the flowery lies spewed yesterday.

There were four recipients of the award: WG, BG, WG, WW. They all spoke about the openness and inclusiveness of our courts. Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit. The courts are inclusive and open only so long as you can pay the fees. Without an attorney almost all pro se clients will fail because they cannot navigate all of the rules successfully. Do you know what color the top page of a plaintiff’s appellate brief should be? What font and size? Endnotes or footnotes? Justified or not? Cited cases underlined or in italics? Do you know? Where would you find out? How would you even know to think that this mattered? Not to mention the rules and customs of filing or responding to a complaint. Trust me it is not intuitive. Nor is it easy. Nor are the city/county/state employees very helpful. Grrrrrrr....... Open and inclusive my ass.

There was not one word spoken to suggest that there was any additional work to be done to improve the court system.

Abner Mikva (WG) was one of the recipients. He currently teaches a few classes at my law school. He has woven himself into Chicago’s political fiber and has had the ears of the original Mayer Daley, Harold Washington and our current Daley. He made a quip about being a firm believer in ‘innocence by association’ and said that he must a saint, considering the company he kept. Then he continued on about the inclusiveness of the group. "Look we’ve got a woman a black guy, an Asian guy.....we’ve got it all. Next year we should elect an Eskimo and a Pacific Islander and we’ll be golden!"

The crowd cheered this. What. The. Fuck. Seriously, this is grounds for celebration? In a city that has as many black as white people – with Hispanic numbers increasing to trisect the city’s population in the next few years – and as many women and men, this is considered utopia? I don’t think the inclusion of a few token white women and minority men really balances the scales. Plus I think the Eskimo comment was quite inappropriate. Comparing the inclusion of women to the inclusion of a small native population 1500 miles away seems like an apples and oranges situation. Or more worrisome, maybe it isn’t to this man.

When the woman who won the award was announced, she was described as being nice and compassionate to everyone...janitor to judge, rich to poor....and on and on it went. The men were announced by their accomplishments. She was announced by her personality. It wasn’t until the end of her spiel that I realized that she was the first woman appointed to the Seventh Circuit court. Maybe that should have been included in her introduction instead of how warm of a smile she always has.

Gotta love the legal world.

Seconds before the closing speech concluded, my boss stood up and bolted through the tables to the door. What the hell? He was gone before I decided to follow him and then everyone was crowding to leave also. I left the building, got my bearings and walked the mile back to my office wondering what caused my boss to bolt.

The next time I saw him in the office he explained, "I wanted to get my shoes shined."
Exhibit #126 in support of my belief that my boss is crazy and has ADHD.

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