« Draft Paper on the Constitution Day Address | Main | Audiobook of "American Founding Son" »

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

You need 5 to do anything

An interesting discussion on the Con Law Prof listserv this week about Justice Brennan's famous "rule" for his clerks that you need five to do anything. There are several ways to interpret that statement, suggesting different things about the Court and its actions.

The first is "if we have 5, we can do whatever we want." This suggests judicial lawlessness, power politics to impose policy preferences without regard to text, precedent, or law. It also reflects the accusation some have leveled against the current majority--they are doing what they want as policy because they can. And defenders of the Court respond that they are following Brennan's rule. And as Eric Segall would say, there is no law to be found anywhere.

The second, urged by several former Brennan clerks on the listserv, is "it takes 5 to do anything." Stated differently, you only can do anything with 5. This suggests humility in working within a multi-member Court--you need to get 5 on board, which might mean compromising and settling for less than you would like. But Brennan remained committed to lawyerly tools and did not advocate pure policy goals.

The third, from another clerk, was a statement of resignation in a case he lost--"well, they have 5, they can do what they want." Again, thsi does not suggest judicial lawlessness or accusing the other side of ignoring law in favor of personal goals. It reflects reality--"they have a different view than I do, but they have 5 and I do not."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 26, 2022 at 03:19 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink

Comments

Post a comment