The associate justices of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017 are the most diverse group in the court’s history, with five Catholics, three Jews and one of Catholic upbringing who now worships at an Episcopalian church.
This changing dynamic of the justices is just one example of the changes in the Supreme Court over the last 60 years that Judge Jon O. Newman plans to talk about in his lecture at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the Hall of Philosophy.
His lecture, titled “The Supreme Court: Then and Now,” will compare the Supreme Court that Newman knew as a law clerk in 1957 to the Supreme Court of today.
“I’m going to be talking about some of the internal differences,” Newman said. “(For example,) the number of law clerks has greatly increased (and) the background of the justices has changed from 1957.”
For Newman, these changes — particularly the shift in the diversity of background of the justices — are positive ones.
“I think the public is better served if the justices are drawn from a variety of backgrounds instead of almost always being chosen from the federal or public courts,” Newman said. “I think a breadth of experience on the court is very useful for the court and for the public.”
Newman is a United States circuit judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Following his graduation from Yale Law School, he worked as a law clerk for Judge George T. Washington of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. From 1957 to 1958, he was senior law clerk to Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren.
After practicing private law, he was appointed by President Richard Nixon in 1971 as U.S. district judge in the District of Connecticut and was then elevated in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where he has served ever since, including as chief judge from 1993 to 1997.
“Most of my life has been in government service in one form or another,” Newman said. “Being a judge the last 45 years was the highlight.”
Newman was the recipient of the Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award in 2016 — an award which, according to the United States Courts website, “honors an Article III judge who has achieved a distinguished career and made significant contributions to the administration of justice, the advancement of the rule of law, and the improvement of society as a whole.”
Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, head of the selection committee, said in a statement that the award recognized Newman’s “extraordinary contributions to the administration of justice and the training of younger judges.”
In recent years, Newman has vocally advocated for stricter consequences for police misconduct. In a 2016 op-ed for The Washington Post, Newman observed that currently, “federal laws makes it more difficult to sue a police officer for denying a citizen his constitutional rights than for injuring him by ordinary negligence.” He argued for strengthening federal civil rights law so victims of police misconduct could sue the police for money, which “would be a better response” than criminal lawsuits.
“Juries, and even judges in non-jury trials, are reluctant to convict police officers of a crime, even in the face of ample evidence. With rare exceptions, they simply will not say “guilty” and risk sending an officer to prison,” Newman wrote. “Suing the officer for money damages in a federal civil rights suit is the only realistic way to establish police misconduct and secure at least some vindication for victims and their families.”
Newman’s lecture is the 13th Robert H. Jackson Lecture on the Supreme Court of the United States. This lecture is delivered each summer after the completion of the Supreme Court’s term and is presented in partnership with the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown.