In February 1999, I had my first opportunity to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court. I’d been an appellate assistant public defender for 12 years and had argued hundreds of cases.
But this was the highest court in the land, and I was nervous.
I remember Justice Antonin Scalia trying to pigeonhole me with a question that could lead me down a losing path.
Just then, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pulled us back to the main issue: Does an anonymous tip that an African-American teenager had a gun justify forcibly stopping and searching him?
This remains an important social and legal issue. Can anyone, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity, be stopped by police and searched underneath their clothing based on an unverified tip?
Justice Ginsburg wrote the unanimous decision finding the stop and search unconstitutional, read it aloud in open court and sent me a signed copy for my wall.
Some 20 years later, I still look at it every day and, after 1,400 cases, it remains the highlight of my career.
Not only was Justice Ginsburg a warrior for equality, she was a brilliant jurist who recognized the significance of every case before the Supreme Court.
She left an indelible legacy on this country.
Harvey J. Sepler,
In March 2016, on “Meet The Press,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “The American people are about to weigh in on who is going to be the president. And that’s the person, whoever that may be, who ought to be making this appointment.”
That was more than six months before the election. Here it is less than two months until the election. I guess, according to McConnell, we should wait.
For once, I agree with him.
Fill RBG’s seat now
We are all mindful that the election is near, and that whoever holds the office of president picks the next Supreme Court nominee, but waiting until after the November election to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat is a bad option for America.
The court’s new term starts this year on Oct. 5, and the newly elected president won’t take office until Jan. 20, a full four months from now. If we wait until then, the contentious Senate hearing on the judicial nomination we all expect will delay confirmation of the new justice for weeks, if not months more.
Given the political polarity among the remaining eight justices, we could be left with many of the Supreme Court’s cases end in a 4-4 tie on the important issues. Indeed, if the presidency itself becomes a judicial battle, as many predict, we’d have to wait to fill the court until protracted litigation decides who was elected president.
We should not be without a nine-member Supreme Court for such a long time. Legions of lawyers have been retained to contest the expected close presidential election. The American people deserve a fully functioning, decisive final say on the important issues of the day from all nine of our best judicial minds, politics be damned.
John A. Lanzetta,