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New Member of Supreme Court Brings More Than Just One Vote

"Every time a new justice comes to the Supreme Court, it's a different court," Justice Byron R. White liked to say, and he had reason to know. During a tenure of 31 years, he saw the arrival of 13 new colleagues. Each one, he said, made the court "a new instrument."

Supreme Court history is filled with testaments to the impact of personality and the significance of personal interaction. Prof. Sanford V. Levinson of the University of Texas School of Law has studied the career of Justice Felix Frankfurter, the indisputably brilliant Harvard Law School professor named to the court by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

"Professor Frankfurter thought it was his role to socialize newcomers," Professor Levinson said, adding that Justice Frankfurter could be so condescending and overbearing, as in one instance when he sent Justice John Marshall Harlan a disapproving note with instructions to "read and reread" a particular essay on jurisprudence, "that he pushed away his natural friends and allies."

In similar fashion today, Justice Antonin Scalia, another former law professor with a tongue as sharp as his wit, has not fulfilled predictions that his intelligence and charm would make him a leader on the court. "Everybody expected Scalia to be able to charm his colleagues, and the biggest surprise of his tenure is that he has played William O. Douglas rather than William Brennan," Professor Levinson said, referring to one of the court's most famous curmudgeons and one of its most successful salesmen.

Read entire article at NYT