15 February, 16:30 hours.
Retired Navy Commander, and currently Supreme Court Justice James L. Ryan is teaching a class in evidence at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in the converted Masonic Temple Building across from the State Capital.
In mid sentence, the door opens and class is interrupted by a messenger from the Dean’s office.
The note delivers an abrupt and ominous message. Please call the Chief Justice at his office.
Jim Ryan apologized to his students, gave them a quick assignment for next weeks' class, then headed out the door and down the elevator to the Dean’s office.
Within minutes he had Soapy Williams on the line.
“I’m teaching a class. What’s so important to interrupt my class?”
Soapy spoke in his usual slow, deliberate tone. “We have four votes to oust Dorothy. I thought I would do you the courtesy of letting you know before the news gets out.”
“When are you going to do this?”
“Now. Right now.”
“Without a hearing? Without even a meeting of the court?”
“No, indeed. That’s why I asked you to call. We’re here in my office.”
Ryan could feel his face redden, his heart thumping, teeth grinding.
“I’ll be right there,” he growled and slammed the phone down.
Minutes later, he stepped out of the elevator on the third floor of the Law Building. As he started down the hall, he encountered Jim Brickley, just coming out of his office. They compared notes. Brickley had just received the same summons.
Soapy was behind his desk. Mike Cavanagh and Giles Kavanagh were sitting on the couch. Chuck Levin was standing near the window.
Ryan waded right in. He was more than angry. He was livid. The case of Kelley v Riley was over. The court had issued its order. Indeed made the order immediately effective.
There was nothing pending in the court on which to vote, no lawsuit for them to decide.
He reminded the Chief Justice that the court’s own rules require a petition for a rehearing to be filed by one of the litigants, and an opportunity for both sides to be heard before the court could revisit one of its decisions.
There simply is no such thing as the court re-voting on a case which has already been decided. It cannot be done. Not only would it violate the court’s own rules, it clearly deprived Dorothy Riley of notice and an opportunity to be heard.
Didn’t the justices realize that what they were doing violated the Constitution of the United States? Weren’t they aware of the damage this would do to the prestige of the court?
Soapy said nothing. Only Chuck Levin spoke. He hadn’t really intended to vote for Dorothy. He only meant to say that he wasn’t persuaded either way.
Ryan asked if he would be given a chance to file a dissenting opinion.
Soapy nodded, ”Yes, but not tonight. We are going ahead with the order.”
The meeting lasted thirty, maybe forty minutes. Finally Brickley pulled Ryan aside.“We’re swimming upstream,” he whispered. And so they were.
As they left the room, they could hear the Chief Justice calling Harold Hoag, the Clerk of the Court.