Saturday, March 7, 2015

Fundamental differences between the US and Canadian Supreme Courts

Canada and the US are two neighbouring countries that both mainly come out the English common law tradition.  Both countries have 9 member Supreme Courts, but the two courts are very different because the countries they are in.

  • The Canadian Supreme Court works in two languages as required by law, the decision are in English and French and in theory equal. The US Supreme Court is exclusively English but not required to be so by law though I suspect a decision written in English and Spanish would cause a shitstorm in the US.
  • The US Supreme Court has a single member under the age of 60, Canada has 4
  • The US Supreme Court has 4 members over the age of 75, Canada has none and has a mandatory retirement age of 75
  • Both courts appointed their first women at roughly the same time, the US appointed the first female justice in 1981, Canada in 1982 but what is different is that since then Canada has appointed 9 women in total to the US with only 4
  • The US Supreme Court only has 3 women on it, Canada has 4
  • The US Supreme Court has had 3 women on it since August 2010,  since September 1999 Canada has never had less than 3 women on the court
  • 5 of the US Supreme Court Justices have served more than 20 years, only 1 Canadian has served over 20
  • 4 of the US Supreme Court Justices have served less than 10 years, 7 Canadian has served less than 10 years
  • Canada has had 85 justices in 139 years, the US has had 112 in 226 years though both courts have had 17 Chief Justices
  • Religion matters a lot more to the Americans and people track the religion of the justices, currently they have 6 Catholic and 3 Jewish justices, historically there the US Supreme Court has been overwhelmingly Protestant.   In Canada 3 of the current justices are Jewish, 2 are Catholic and for 4 of them their faith is unknown.  Historically Canada has always had at least 3 Catholic background justices are any given time
  • In Canada geography matters, legally 3 justices have to be from the Quebec but by convention 3 are from Ontario, 2 from the west and 1 from Atlantic Canada.  In the US geography does not seem to matter at all with 4 justices born or raised in New York. Six of the current US justices from from the Northeast
  • In the last generation Canada has appointed three justices that had never been judges, I am unaware of the last time this happened in the US
  • The US Supreme Court is highly politicized and everyone seems to want to paint all the judges as liberals or conservatives.  In Canada the court is very apolitical even though 7 of the current court members were appointed by Stephen Harper
  • In the US the names of the justices are very well known to a large part of the population.  In Canada, outside of a small world of academics and legal geeks, virtually no one knows who the justices are
  • The US Supreme Court has been working in a well defined legal framework for the last generation, the Canadian Supreme Court has often been interpreting the meaning of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms over the last 30 years and creating the modern legal landscape of Canada 
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