Judges on Judging: Views from the Bench

By David M. O'Brien | Go to book overview

8
The Supreme Court's Conference

WILLIAM H. REHNQUIST Chief Justice, Supreme Court of the United States

What I would like to do is to describe in some detail how the Conference of the Supreme Court of the United States operates.

It has been pointed out that the Conference of the Supreme Court is "secret." It is indeed secret, or closed, since only the nine members of the Court are permitted to be present while it is in session. But in order to put the matter in perspective, I would like to point out that a good part of the Court's work is done in public sessions, and that every single case, petition, or application presented to the Court is disposed of by an order entered in the public records of the Court. Let me present a synopsis of our Court's judicial year so that it can be seen how all of this fits together.

Beginning the first week of October in each year, we commence a new Term; we begin the Term by having three days of oral arguments before the full bench, sitting in the public Court Room in the Supreme Court building in Washington. On days of oral argument, the Court generally sits from ten o'clock in the morning until noon, takes an hour for lunch, and returns to the bench at one o'clock in the afternoon and sits until three or a little after. Generally each case which we hear argued is allocated one hour of time, so that in three days we will have heard 12 cases argued. These sessions of oral argument are held in the courtroom and are completely open to the press and to the public.

As soon as we come off the bench Wednesday afternoon around three o'clock, we go into "conference" in a room adjoining the chambers of the Chief Justice. This Conference is attended only by members of the Court, and at our Wednesday afternoon meeting we deliberate and vote on the four cases which we heard argued the preceding Monday. The Chief Justice begins the discussion of each case with a summary of the facts, his analysis of the law, and an announcement of his proposed vote (that is, whether to affirm, reverse, modify, etc.). The discussion then passes to the senior Associ

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