by Judge J. Howard Sundermann
The success of the television series The West Wing, the
alleged inside look at the White House, has spawned similar inside
look shows of another branch of government, the Supreme Court.
ABC's entry is called The Court. Like First Monday,
another television show about the Supreme Court, the premise
is that a new Justice is coming on a court that is in a four
to four deadlock.
problem for this type of show is that the inside workings of
an appellate court are not as intrinsically exciting as the White
House. Trust me on this one. To really portray an accurate picture
of the court, the program would show judges simply sitting at
their desks reading and writing. Of course, The Court
producers have tried to spice it up, and the producer of West
Wing has been enlisted to do just that.
Sally Field plays the lead character, a former governor of Ohio.
She is nominated as a justice because she is a moderate with
no previous appellate experience, no "paper trail,"
and is easy to confirm. The first show dealt largely with her
selection and confirmation process. Sally Field is likeable in
film and comes across as a likeable character here, but also
politically savvy. Her career has come full circle from when
she first wore a robe as the Flying Nun.
It is evident, after the first show, that there is a sub-plot
brewing as we are introduced to a young reporter, a former student
of the new Justice, who is trying to dig up dirt on his former
teacher. There are hints he may be on to something but there
is not enough proof yet. He finds the beginnings of a story in
Ohio that has some relation to, what else, a strip club.
A parallel story along with that of the Justices is about the
law clerks. They seem to be the same clerks from First Monday.
The clerks are young and good-looking, clearly aiming for a young
audience. But in order to feature the clerks so prominently,
considerable accuracy is sacrificed. The clerks are portrayed
as having far too large an effect on the outcome of the cases.
They are also portrayed as being in full-time competition with
each other and they are constantly gloating when they think a
Justice has adopted their position over that of another clerk.
In reality, appellate clerks are congenial to each other and
deferential to the Judges. The only time they might really be
in competition is for good jobs after their tenure on the court.
The Court is well made with a likeable star and it is
better than its competitor First Monday, but I predict
the show will not be a success. Each show will probably treat
a different current issue in a cursory way and I am already tired
of the bickering law clerks.
Posted April 3, 2002