DerryNews.com, Derry, New Hampshire

April 1, 2014

Ranking the Supreme Court's heavy hitters

By Cass R. Sunstein
Bloomberg News

— In the nation's history, 112 people have served on the Supreme Court of the United States. Suppose that we were to select the all-time greats. Who would make the cut?

To answer that question, we need a metric. It makes sense to consider two factors: historical significance and legal ability. It would be too contentious to include only those justices with whom one agrees, so let's make this list ideology- free. We'll also exclude the current justices, because it is too early to tell whether any will count among the all-time greats.

Without further ado, here are the greatest Supreme Court justices, along with the year they were appointed to the court:

Holmes' defining contribution was an insistence on a modest role for the federal judiciary. His pithy explanation: "If my fellow citizens want to go to Hell I will help them. It's my job." Holmes insisted that a constitution "is made for people of fundamentally differing views." If Marshall was the court's Babe, Holmes was its Hank Aaron — the greatest home-run hitter who didn't use steroids.

No other justice wrote sentences like this: "Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard." Or this: "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein." Jackson made Supreme Court opinions sing.

Named chief justice in 1986, Rehnquist was no longer alone. Reducing federal power and limiting the reach of numerous Warren court rulings, Rehnquist redirected constitutional law in countless areas. More than any other justice in recent decades, Rehnquist succeeded in restoring what he considered to be the right constitutional balance.