One of the areas of our government shrouded in secrecy – or at least undistributed knowledge – is that august branch, the Supreme Court.

I wonder why the Justices aren’t called the Supremes.

Here are the things I know about the Justices:

  1. There are nine justices.
  2. They are appointed for life, or until they retire, which is much different than being appointed for life. It would be better to say they are placed in a position of unfireability. Is there no circumstance under which a justice can be fired?
  3. They decide whether certain laws or legally acceptable circumstances are discordant with the aims and declarations of the constitution.
  4. They wear black robes.

It turns out that there is a whole lot of protocol that has to be fulfilled in order for a case to be eligible to be heard by the Honorable Supremes. Even then, they get to choose which cases they want to hear. They listen and make witty and resounding rebuttals to lawyers’ nervous ramblings from Monday to Thursday, and on Friday they meet together in über-secrecy to discuss their voting, and they get a three month summer vacation. Sounds like a kooshy job.

Of course, it is a mentally taxing position that takes a great deal of responsibility, eloquence, and candor.  “Weighty” many have called it. But what does a Justice actually do?

I have been establishing a satisfactory answer for myself through the varying descriptions produced in 1964’s Gideon’s Trumpet and Christopher Buckley’s 2008 novel Supreme Courtship. Anthony Lewis’ account of Clarence Earl Gideon’s fight for right to counsel does an excellent job discussing the process of a case coming before the court and the ramifications of a Supreme Court ruling. It is an easy read, with the technical and heady topics of constitutional law explained in simple terms. The description of the case from start to finish keeps interest on all the background information needed to understand the significance of the moment.

Christopher Buckley educates the attuned reader by presenting the unorthodox nomination of a TV court judge to the Supreme Court  by a goodhearted and desperate President. The judge’s ensuing adventures are more cerebral than physical, but they open the process of the Supreme Court through a comedic and almost plausible plotline.

So ha. I haven’t actually answered the question for you, because I believe in forwarding the cause of adult literacy. Like any skill, it requires practice!

To further my own research, I believe I’ll have to get some in-person experience. Although I have visited the Supreme Court before, it was in the middle of summer recess. I have now firmly added a trip (or several) to the public’s observational seats to The List in order to witness the pointed questions of the Nine for myself. The fact that I shall feel obliged to dress up certainly does not hurt the probability of this happening.