Partiality and Disclosure in Supreme Court Opinions

Nagel, Robert F. | January 1, 2012

This Essay begins by identifying the various kinds of partiality the Justices of the Supreme Court can have in the cases they decide. Although there is widespread recognition of the influence these biases might have, for the most part the Justices continue to write opinions as if they (and other judges) were entirely disinterested. This practice is often thought to be justified as a source of judicial legitimacy, but there are a number of reasons to doubt that a pretense of impersonality is actually important for maintaining respect for the Court. Consequently, the possibility has to be considered that the Justices should routinely acknowledge their interests. This Essay, however, assesses some exceptional categories of cases where the Justices have addressed the issue of partiality and concludes that judicial self-interest prevents candid or realistic appraisals of possible bias.