16 Jul 2005 Health of Supreme Court Justices: Is It Our Business?
There are a number of interesting questions raised in this Washington Post story about the health of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. The article raises other questions, but some that occur to me are:
* Is it ethical for the head of one of the three branches of our federal government to keep the public from knowing details of his serious medical disorders?
* Should a distinction be made between disorders that are purely physical versus those that are reasonably likely to affect his judgment (speaking purely hypothetically, a hip replacement versus growing memory loss)?
* Is it less important for the public to know the health status of the Chief Justice because he lacks the power to send troops to war?
* Since the public “sees” the President (on TV) and hears from him often, and pretty much every official move the President makes is followed and analyzed by the press, yet (for some reason) there is a zone of privacy around Supreme Court justices, does it actually become more important for a justice to affirmatively make public personal matters of potential public concern?
Personally, in questions of this nature I think public officials should err on the side of public disclosure.
Columnist Ellen Goodman wrote a piece on this issue last January. Although she and I do not share many political views, I agree with her on this one.