Recently, Ann Althouse had a great post criticizing Jeffrey Toobin’s account of oral argument in the Supreme Court’s political gerrymandering case. Toobin had criticized Neal Gorsuch, portraying him as violating norms and as ineffective. But Althouse makes a strong case that this is largely in Toobin’s imagination. Sadly, this is not the first time Toobin has unfairly criticized an originalist justice. In this past post, I criticized Toobin’s unfair attack on Justice Thomas’s criticism of nonoriginalism. Apparently, Toobin sees his role as in part attempting to persuade the New Yorker’s audience that originalists are just so wrong.
There are three paradigmatic types of Supreme Court justices—the jurisprude, the ideologue, and the partisan. While no actual Supreme Court justice perfectly represents the ideal, some present pretty close approximations. It is hard to understand or predict the results of Supreme Court cases without determining how a particular justice fits into these types.
The jurisprude is a justice committed to a particular method of judging rather than an particular set of results. On the current Court the examples par excellence are Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas who are committed to originalism. From the past Justice Hugo Black was a textualist and Felix Frankfurter, his sparring partner, advocated an historical jurisprudence. These jurisprudential commitments frequently lead to unusual ideological results. Justice Scalia (and Justice Thomas as well) vote for criminal defendants based on their close readings of the language of the Constitution, like the Confrontation Clause. For originalist reasons, Justice Thomas is no friend of preemption claims with the result that in his opinions businesses often lose to state tort law and regulation. Despite being a New Deal populist as a Senator, Black as a Justice wanted to enforce the Contract Clause against debtors.
The ideologue is a justice who is strongly right or left of center as that is defined in his day and votes that way.
Tim Sandefur recently had a post up claiming that Justice Thomas is the greater originalist, not Justice Scalia (as Lee Strang had claimed). I don't necessarily disagree with Sandefur -- I think that both Scalia and Thomas have their virtues. But I do strongly disagree with one aspect of Sandefur's post where he says: But if originalism means anything, it means that the Constitution has a meaning, and that it’s possible for courts to get that meaning wrong, and between those two—following the wrongly decided precedent or following the Constitution’s actual meaning—a judge must choose the latter. One can disagree with this approach,…