For better or worse, these are truly changing times for the Supreme Court.
As one of the three independent branches of government, the High Court has always been the most silent, the least prone to fanfare. The other branches are mostly essentially popular.
The justices, for their part, are traditionally seen as stoic. They let their decisions, which interpret the law and make up jurisprudence to guide future legal disputes, speak for themselves. Their decisions are always collegial. They never speak about one another—actually, the justices rarely speak at all. It is always the institution of the Supreme Court that we see and hear, not the justices as distinct persons.
The only peek into their individual minds are the dissenting and concurring opinions they may decide to write to explain their vote.
These days, with the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, we seem to be seeing a transformation of the court.
Now there is not one single infallible impenetrable institution. As Sereno battles to save her job and most importantly her reputation, no less than four of her current and former colleagues have decided to subject themselves to questions by members of the legislative department.
The gloves are off, it seems. In the past we did not doubt that the justices had their differences, professionally and personally. But they never went public about these. Today, fellow justices—those who are supposed to be Sereno’s equals even as she is first among them—are speaking out.
Apparently it was Sereno herself who broke protocol by habitually acting on her own without the support of the en banc. These were little things, the justices said, that became, over time, big things because they pointed to a blatant disregard for the court’s collegial nature.
These are interesting times, indeed. We are not yet sure if this departure from established practices is good or bad for the institution, and ultimately for the people. Still, any challenge to the status quo is welcome, if it would help advance the practice of law, the conduct of public officials—and the plain truth.