In the summer of 1971, no question before the U.S. Supreme Court was as contentious as the Pentagon Papers case, in which the Nixon administration sought to prevent the New York Times and the Washington Post from publishing a classified report on the Vietnam War.
In a 6-3 decision, the court eventually upheld the right to publish the material, in a ruling considered a landmark for freedom of the press.
Suppose that during the oral arguments before the court, it emerged that Chief Justice Warren Burger had agreed to meet Katherine Graham, publisher of the Post and thus a party to the case, without any of the attorneys present and completely off-the-record. It would have been considered a classic example of prohibited ex parte communication during a trial, and likely would have resulted in invalidating the entire process.
In an independent system of justice, the chief judicial authority has to maintain scrupulous neutrality, observing rigorous hands-off protocols intended to protect the integrity of the process. Otherwise, people will assume that legal decisions are simply an extension of politics by other means.
Continue reading at Crux