As a young kid, you may have viewed whatever your parent said as the final word. To a law student, opinions from the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) are more than that. We consume every utterance from the nine souls sitting atop their perch in Washington, D.C., as if voiced directly from Mount Olympus.
We are their parishioners—their groupies. Oliver Wendell Holmes syllogisms fill our Facebook statuses and Antonin Scalia imagery our tweets. One of my fellow 1Ls took a several hour bus trip to Virginia for a weekend just to see Clarence Thomas speak.
Having met some celebrities on the streets of New York City, I cannot deny that other superstars can rightfully claim demigod status themselves. Will Smith may be a modern day Achilles or Hercules. Still, his fame is ephemeral. His aura doesn’t tow with it the permanence of deification.
I recently had the privilege of attending a Q&A between Justice Stephen Breyer and Dean Ricky Revesz. It was humbling to be seated less than ten feet away from one of the country’s most influential people. However, there was also a feeling that we were revealing the man behind the curtain, dismantling the illusion. While each word Justice Breyer writes carries with it exponentially more significance than the aggregate of every word I have typed in my entire life, he was still human. After all, he was at one time in his life just a lawyer—just a law student.
Still, the deity metaphor need not be completely abandoned. Perhaps, the justices are just like the gods of Roman and Greek mythology—deservedly revered individuals but replete with their own human tendencies. The more opinions I read, the more apparent it is that even SCOTUS justices are capable of irrational reasoning and harboring personal biases. Indeed, Justice Breyer was quick to cite former Justice Robert Jackson: “We are not final because we are infallible, we are infallible because we are final.”
Thus, as law students we are left having to pay attention to SCOTUS not because the justices are unimpeachable, but because like mom, they said so.