A Clerical Fantasy: Obi-Wan Stevens vs. Darth Rehnquist


In his 1993 article, “John Paul Stevens and the Manners of Judging”, Professor Christopher Eisgruber illustrates Justice Stevens’s undeniable “kindness and wit, . . . [and] good manners” with “two stories that Stevens clerks hand down from year to year.”  The first story is not relevant here.  The second story is.  It “takes place in open court.  A nervous lawyer was stumbling through an argument, and several times addressed members of the Court as ‘Judge.’  The Chief Justice became more irritated each time that title was used, and finally interrupted the lawyer.  ‘Counselor,’ the Chief Justice intoned, ‘the members of this Court are Justices, not Judges, and you should address them accordingly.’  The lawyer was mortified by this criticism, and began a long, hand-wringing apology.  Justice Stevens leaned forward in his chair, and said, ‘Don’t feel badly, counselor.  The Constitution makes the same mistake.’  Which it does.”

A pleasing anecdote, if one is an admirer of Stevens, and a non-admirer of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who plays the irritable, unkind, and pompous bully, in contrast to the good-humored, kind, and gracious Stevens.  But is it a true story, or not?  And either way, what does it tell us?