The Supreme Court Should Move to Los Angeles

Or Omaha, Nebraska. Or Denver, Colorado. Or elsewhere. Any largely apolitical non-Eastern city will do.

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As everyone knows who lives in Washington, D.C., or at least its Neighborhoods-That-White-People-Like section, it's nearly impossible to escape partisan politics, even during a Wednesday-evening trivia contest or a Saturday-night cocktail party or a Sunday brunch outing.

Almost everyone talks shop all the time.

It is a city of political tribes, Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal, Team Red and Team Blue. There are even Suburbs That White People Like with political affiliations, like Republican-leaning McLean, Virginia.

The Supreme Court is meant to make its decisions based on the rule of law and adherence to the Constitution. Justices are appointed by presidents and confirmed by the Senate, so no one would argue that politics and ideology play no part in outcomes. Still, we're falling short of the ideal when they do. So why locate the court in D.C., guaranteeing that the social lives of its justices will be subject to all the pathologies you get when a town is run by competing political tribes? Why keep them living in the American city where, more than any other, a decision with political implications made in the course of a job can affect one's friendships, the job or social standing of one's spouse, party invitations, and the friendliness or hostility of acquaintances?

Anywhere would be better!

Of course, cities besides D.C. aren't all equal in how politicized they are. Let's not move the Supreme Court to Cambridge, Mass. Instead, how about Los Angeles? Take it from me: The average resident could care less about politics. When it's 70 degrees and sunny everyday, who has time to fret over what's wrong with the world? With celebrities wandering our streets and paparazzi tracking their movements, few would fuss over new black-robed residents.

They could even focus their minds with yoga sessions before oral arguments.

The serious argument for Los Angeles is that it's healthy for an ideally impartial body to be as far away from D.C. as possible, in a town where the local obsessions -- entertainment, fitness, and freeways -- have nothing to do with its work. Such a move would also better align America's population centers and the location of its federal government. But there is a case to be made for Denver, Colo., or Omaha, Neb., too. Despite the fact that Angelenos mostly just want ocean views and ripe avocados at a fair price, we manage, via television and movies, to exert cultural influence on the nation. Plenty of Midwesterners and Westerners don't feel that way.

So maybe the Supreme Court should be in Flagstaff, Ariz., or Cheyenne, Wyo., or Detroit, Mich. Maybe we should build a new Supreme Court facility at the base of Mt. Rushmore so the justices can deliberate as presidents of old gaze down upon their chambers. But are there good reasons to keep them in Washington, D.C., besides tradition and convenience? None that compensate for the marginally more politically minded justices and clerks that we get as a result.

Image credit: Reuters
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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