The 2013 LegalTech trade shows commenced yesterday with the first of three keystone speakers, Theodore B. Olson. Olson was an Assistant Attorney General during Reagan’s presidency and later became a Solicitor General during George W. Bush’s term. He represented the government before the United States Supreme Court and has argued 59 cases, winning over 75% of those arguments.
Olson began his speech by discussing the Supreme Court as an institution. He gave examples of the structuring of this institution while pointing out the gradual alterations that have been made. The first example was how half of the court has changed within the past few years, after a 12 year period of no change. The current associate Justices are collectively 103 years younger than those they have replaced. The average age of the Justices used to be 80 and has now dropped down to 67, since the present day and former president appointed people that were younger than 60. Before, the number of years a Justice served was 28 and now it is 14.
This group of 8 Associate Justices are divided equally- half are conservatives, appointed by Republican presidents while the other half are Liberals, appointed by Democrats. Most are from Ivy League schools from the North East coast (which has received criticism, deeming that the opinions of the Supreme Court are from the “elite”). Of the three women and five men there are no Protestants, they are all either Catholic and Jewish.
Olson continued by examining how the United States Supreme Court, essentially how the Justices, make decisions. The term begins every October until June, receiving around 9,000 petitions a year. However only 80 decisions are actually made during that time (a constant number for the past 10 years). 1/3 of all the decisions made are unanimous, for example 34 of the 67 cases last year were. In order to reach a verdict, the Justices allow each side to have 30 minutes, during which time 50-60 questions are asked by the Associate Justices.
After mentioning numerous cases from 2011- paying close attention to the Obamacare illustration, Olson concluded his speech with a look into the US Supreme Court stock of 2013. Ones that he touched on were issues relating to Affirmative Action, National Security and Same-Sex Marriage.
The affirmative action cases that are on the docket, for eample the Fisher vs. University of Texas, raises the issue of whether colleges can consider race as one factor in the admissions process. Maryland Vs. King questions the constitutionality of electronic monitoring and DNA sampling of suspects without a search warrant and whether it is allowed under the 4th amendment. Lastly, The Supreme Court is going to hear two gay marriage cases that faces the legal issue of whether the federal government can deny tax, health, and pension benefits to same-sex couples in states where they can legally marry. One will challenge the Federal Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the second will challenge California’s gay marriage ban Proposition 8.
It will be an intense time, but Theodore B. Olson believes that there is no issue that the court has not shaped, either for the better or for the worse. “The Supreme Court has made some major mistakes, but ultimately the institution gets it right.” It is a process of hearing the debates, asking questions and making decisions that are open and justified in writing.