Sunday, April 08, 2007

Gone Are the Brethren

(Crossposted from the American Constitution Society :: Columbia Law School)

In my 3½ semesters in law school, I’ve noticed a funny expression in old Supreme Court opinions. Justices would often use the phrase “my brethren” to refer to their fellow justices.

As one might expect, the appointment of a woman to the Supreme Court marked the end of this practice. A Westlaw search of the phrase “my brethren” in Supreme Court opinions yielded some 284 Supreme Court cases, from 1795 to 1981, in which the phrase appeared. The last time “my brethren” was used to refer to fellow justices was in Justice Rehnquist’s dissent from a denial of certiorari in Jeffries v. Barksdale, 453 U.S. 914 (1981). The Jeffries dissent was handed down on June 29, 1981; President Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor on July 7, 1981.

1 comment:

Amos Blackman said...

Slightly related: it's still common practice in some of the New England states to refer to fellow members of the bar, including opposing counsel, as "my brother" (or "my sister," presumably, although I can't recall hearing it in person).

I discovered this when I first competed in the Frederick Douglass Moot Court. Fred Doug is run by the National Black Law Students Association, and a majority of the competitors are Black. You might imagine my initial confusion about the meaning my opposing counsel intended the first time I heard it.

P.S. I haven't seen her in a while, but I don't remember Justice O'Connor having a receding hairline. What's up, Time Magazine illustrator?