Gavel Grab

Sotomayor Update: Obama Honors Court's 'Independence'

Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s swearing in as a U.S. Supreme Court justice not only made political and judicial history–she is the first Hispanic to sit on the highest court–but it also reflected a departure from recent practice for such oath-takings.

Tony Mauro has done some digging and reports in The Blog of Legal Times, where is he is Supreme Court reporter, that Judge Sotomayor’s oath-taking at the U.S. Supreme Court shows a measure of conceding to justices who felt the event had become inappropriately political. After posting the original report, Mauro added this update:  “A White House source says President Barack Obama wanted the oath-taking to occur at the Supreme Court ‘as a symbol of the Court’s independence.’ “

Justice John Paul Stevens discussed his  concerns in February when he gave a talk at the Newseum in Washington, according to BLT. In recent years, the trend was for new justices to take the oath at the White House. Stevens said he thought it was more appropriate to administer the oath at the Supreme Court because “the justice is on his or her own”at the court afterward,  separate from the president who made the selection, BLT reported.

“‘I was troubled by the incorrect symbolism’” of swearing in justices at the White House, Stevens was quoted as saying, contending it took away from the high court’s “‘very separate status’.”

Mauro reported that correspondence in the late Justice Thurgood Marshall’s papers touches on the issue. Justice Antonin Scalia suggested that allowing the presence of news media cameras at a Supreme Court ceremony might permit a way to stage it there rather than at the White House. “The president’s men are going to want good theater,” Scalia wrote. “As far as I am concerned, an investiture ceremony is for show and not for go, and awareness of the camera’s presence is no problem.”  Scalia has otherwise opposed camera access to the Supreme Court.

To read more about the newest Supreme Court justice, see these Gavel Grab postings.

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