The Supreme Court Says Decisions Made By Dead Judges Don’t Count

The Supreme Court is a mighty force in America’s Democracy. Supreme Court judges get a new label when a president nominates a federal judge and Congress confirms the nomination. For a lawyer, it is the Legal Hall of Fame. They are the superheroes of the justice system. And to confirm their superhero status they suddenly become “Justices” instead of federal judges.

And they get to keep their Justice job for life. Back when the Founding Fathers were on the hunt for judges, the only way to find a decent judge was to dangle the lifetime job idea in front of them. But today, the lawyers who want to be judges are drops in a legal ocean filled with deserving lawyers. A lawyer would be crazy not to want a lifetime federal judgeship that could turn into a lifetime justiceship.

But there are downsides to being any kind of lifetime judge. Judges have to stay out of politics, and they can’t act like they support one cause over another in their private life. In fact, their private lives are pretty private. Even the press stays away from throwing shade at Supreme Court Justices or federal judges unless they do or say something really stupid. Like Brett Kavanaugh did several times during his Congressional testimony.

When Congress confirms a federal judge or Supreme Court Justice, they don’t have to worry about another job, ever. But they may have to worry about a case they authored if they die before the final filing.

According to a recent Supreme Court ruling, a dead judge’s decision doesn’t count if the decision came after the death of the judge. In other words, all the constitutional power that judge enjoyed in life ends when he reaches the other side of legal nowhere.

The case that determined that ruling is the U.S. Court of Appeals judge for the Ninth Circuit Stephen Reinhardt’s death. Judge Reinhardt was the author of a decision filed 11 days after his March 29, 2018 death. Judge Reinhardt was 87 when he put his lifetime job skills to work and authored the case. But only five judges on the panel approved his decision out of the 10 judges on the panel. Even though Reinhardt had an important role in the case, his vote doesn’t count because he wasn’t a judge when the filing involving the federal Equal Pay Act got to the final filing stage.

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