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Supreme Court Justices, from a distance, are bound to have considerable appeal as speakers for a distinguished occasion such as this. After all, there are only nine of us at any given time, and those nine together compose the membership of the highest court in the United States. This Court in its turn heads the judicial branch of the federal government, which, with the executive and the legislative branches, is one of the three coordinate divisions of that government which the Framers of the Constitution created. And, as all of you know, many of our decisions have considerable impact upon the way the nation's affairs are conducted.

Alas, upon a closer look, the initial appeal of a Supreme Court Justice wanes, at least to a certain extent. In the first place, he brings with him the general but not altogether unjustified stereotype of a judge — dignified, stuffy, and perhaps a little bit on the pompous side. And if one can overcome this hurdle, there remain the numerous taboos as to what a Justice of our Court may discuss in public — no cases currently pending before the Court, and certainly not directly any issues involved in those cases. And yet my colleagues and I do our best to overcome these handicaps, feeling that we can perhaps bring some worthwhile observations to an audience such as this, and feeling even more strongly that we ourselves come away from a visit to a city outside of Washington better for having made the visit.

As you might expect, my subject tonight deals with the Supreme Court of the United States. In a state such as Ohio, I make no apology for having chosen such a subject. Just as Ohio competes with Virginia as being the "mother of Presidents," I am sure that Ohio can hold its own with any other state of the Union as a "mother" of Supreme Court Justices.


William H. Rehnquest is an Associate Justice, United States Supreme Court. This was a speech given at the University of Dayton on April 3, 1979. All rights reserved to the author.

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