Can the people sue the Supreme Court as "employers" suing "employees"?
June 23, 2022 7:44 AM   Subscribe

I understand that Supreme Court justices are immune from suit however what if they were sued for a decision within the context of them being literal public servant employees of taxpaying citizen employers and sued for negligence or some form of "not meeting the terms of agreement" (i.e. making decisions against the needs of the people)?
posted by sounddelalladaya to Law & Government (8 answers total)
 
The remedy for U.S. Supreme Court justices not fulfilling their duty is impeachment by Congress.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:59 AM on June 23 [14 favorites]


"making decisions against the needs of the people" is so vague as to be toothless. Which people? Which needs? Whose needs? As I understand it, the Supremes are supposed to interpret the laws as written by the Congress. Winnie is correct. Want to get rid of one or all? Impeachment.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:05 AM on June 23 [5 favorites]


Immune from suit means immune from suit. Winnie is correct: the remedy - the sole remedy - is impeachment.
posted by bile and syntax at 8:06 AM on June 23 [1 favorite]


Judicial immunity aside, there's sort of a bootstrapping problem here. If SCOTUS rules that you don't have particular right, and you sue (asserting that you do and they made a mistake), any judge, being bound by the SCOTUS decision on that right, will similarly be bound to find that SCOTUS can't have violated a nonexistent right. And who can you appeal to change that? Only SCOTUS, so.
posted by BungaDunga at 8:09 AM on June 23 [3 favorites]


taxpaying citizen employers

No. There are absolutely no rights conferred to anyone by paying taxes. And this idea of "taxpaying" or "tax money" is insidious and dangerous. I'm pretty sure that a lawyer will come in to tell you that this is a non-starter, but I want to say that even if it were a yes-starter, you'd be suing as a citizen and have that right whether you paid taxes or not. The supreme court justices are paid with public funds, not taxpayer money. They work for the people of the United States not for taxpayers. (though really, legally, they're employed by the federal government, I'm sure).
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:50 AM on June 23 [15 favorites]


It occurs to me that if the people writ large want to fire a SCOTUS judge for cause, that's what impeachment is, and the extremely high bar is there as a proxy for the people being really sure about doing it.

If you can't reach that high bar then it's questionable whether there's sufficient agreement that the judge has in fact acted improperly. It's not that they haven't, but if the people are in fact substantially divided over the issue, why should some other, equally unelected judge be empowered to decide it?
posted by BungaDunga at 9:14 AM on June 23


Hi, sounddelalladaya! As you may or may not know, a few groups have arisen in recent years who like to invent wild and baseless new legal theories and then insist that their make-belief has somehow replaced the actual law.

I think the reason you have received some testy answers here may be that some respondents are wary that you might be trying to talk yourself into such beliefs.

So long as you recognize that you're just engaged in a thought experiment and learning exercise, it is okay -- even civically-admirable! -- to think creatively and ask questions about how the law might work, as you've done here.

In case you want to learn about the obligations that judges sometimes owe to people, the nearest real-world equivalent I can think of to the concept you've sketched here is called a "writ of mandamus", which is when a person petitions a higher court to command a lower court to respect a specific legal right that the person holds -- but nobody can send a writ of mandamus to the highest court, and the responsibilities of judges are not governed by any of the principles that govern employment contracts.
posted by foursentences at 1:13 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


No. Impeaching a Supreme Court justice, Vox explainer: ... Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution provides for the removal of “the President, Vice President, and all civil Officers of the United States … on Impeachment for and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The term “civil officers” is not defined in the Constitution, and Bazan notes that with one exception (US Sen. William Blount, one of the first two elected from Tennessee in 1796) every person impeached so far has been an executive or judicial branch official. The Senate ultimately decided that Blount was not a “civil officer” and acquitted him on that basis.

History.com: Has a U.S. Supreme Court justice ever been impeached? Yes, Samuel Chase, in 1804. However, in 1805 Chase was acquitted by the Senate, a decision that helped safeguard the independence of the judiciary. He served on the court until his death in 1811. [...] In 1969, Abe Fortas became the first—and, to date, only—Supreme Court justice to resign under the threat of impeachment. Named to the court by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, Fortas was forced to step down due to financial improprieties that involved him agreeing to act as a paid consultant to the family foundation of a man under investigation for securities fraud.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:18 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]


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