Thursday, February 22, 2007

Do Supreme Court Decisions End Up Having Little To Do With The Parties?

4united_states_supreme_court_112904_8_1Interesting article in the Washington Post a few days back about the pending Supreme Court case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (discussed in previous posts here and here), a pay discrimination case involving the proper statutory period for considering pay discriminatory acts under Title VII.  The case could be decided any day. 

But according to the article, Ms. Ledbetter feels that she has been left out from the case.  Some Justices (both conservative and progressive) apparently agree that that is exactly how Supreme Court adjudication should be.

Some excerpts from the article:

Lilly M. Ledbetter says she almost stopped breathing when she heard her name called that day, her eight-year battle over alleged pay discrimination finally reaching the ultimate legal forum, the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We'll hear argument next in Ledbetter versus Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company," Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. announced.

The odds are akin to being struck by lightning, having your case plucked from the thousands of others who have vowed, like you, to take the fight all the way to the Supreme Court. And then you find it's not so much about you anymore.

It was the only time that November morning that any of the nine justices spoke Lilly Ledbetter's name.

At a forum late last year, Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen G. Breyer, usually the court's yin and yang on matters of constitutional interpretation, agreed that that is how it should be. They were asked whether their duty was to provide justice for those who came before the court or simply to interpret the law.

"The point of the law is to satisfy a human desire for justice," Breyer explained, but he added: "You don't necessarily get to that end by simply trying to look for what is the intuitively nicer result in each case."

Scalia was blunter. "By the time you get up to an appellate court -- and lawyers ought to learn this -- I don't much care about your particular case," he said. "I am not about to produce a better result in your case at the expense of creating terrible results in a hundred other cases."

For what it's worth, I tend to disagree with Justices Breyer and Scalia on this one.  A case, no matter at what level of the judiciary, should always be about interpreting the law in a way that provides the appropriate justice to the parties.  If that principle is followed, I think that like cases decided under that precedent will also lead to just results.   

I am reminded of Justice Blackmun's stirring opinion in Deshaney, involving the severe physical abuse of a child caused at least in part by the neglect of the states' child protection agency, that started: "Poor Joshua!"  Thinking of cases like that I can't help but feel that judicial decisions at any level should never lose sight of the parties in the case and their particular plights in the name of achieving some abstract principle of law that may or may not lead to just results in future cases.


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