Judging in Chambers: The Powers of a Single Justice of the Supreme Court
73 Pages Posted: 16 Oct 2008
Date Written: August 23, 2008
A relatively obscure power of individual federal judges, including Supreme Court Justices, is the power to grant interim relief to a litigant pending appellate review of a lower court's judgment or order. Individual Justices routinely use this power, exercising virtually unfettered discretion to determine the interim outcome of cases during the months and years it can take for the appellate process to conclude. In some cases, an individual Justice has the power to decide if a case will be kept in a posture in which appellate review is even possible. This Article explores this power, largely focusing on the Supreme Court level, and offers a critical assessment of its use as a matter of both constitutional theory and sound judicial policy. Article III vests the judicial power of the United States in courts, not judges, and this Article traces this historical practice of judges ruling from chambers, rather than from the bench, to argue that the powers of a single judge are limited to emergency situations and quasi-administrative tasks. The Article then argues that the current procedures regarding applications for interim relief should be altered so that the decisions are generally made by multi-member courts rather than individual judges or Justices.
Keywords: Supreme Court, Death Penalty, Jurisdiction, Federal Courts, Structure of Judiciary, Interim Relief, Stay of execution
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