The Supreme Court refers to itself on a regular basis. And that, so goes my favorite scholarly adage, is "the merest of truisms." Except that it's not clear what "itself" means. Over time, occupants of seats on the Court change, somewhat continuously, as does the Court's legal turn of mind, its voting patterns, its overarching historical "mission" and its concrete constitutional legacy. Even Justice Scalia, who fits somewhat snugly within the generalized federalism of the "Rehnquist Court," used the phrase "this Court" to refer to Miranda v. Arizona, the hallmark triumph of the Constitution-As-Sword "Warren Court," a case that couldn't be further from Scalia's jurisprudence, and that fueled his vigorous (and beautiful) dissent in Dickerson:
Why should Scalia apologize for Justice Warren's opinion in Miranda? Who is this "we" that took anything from the people? No one expects Bush to apologize for President Kennedy's shortcomings. There is no such "Presidency" in the sense that there is a "Supreme Court." The "Presidency" is merely an abstract descriptor, but "the Court" is a singular, perennial institution, whose make-up only changes incidentally, but not essentially.
Now that's not a view I'm committed to, but it's a view that's built into the nature of judicial legitimacy. Legitimate decisions are depersonalized, and a favorite technique used to criticize judicial opinions involves personalizing them, accusing the majority of asserting its "personal policy preferences," as if the right preference is somehow removed from personality, a preference emerging from the judicial institution itself.
Pronouncements of "this Court" echo notions of "found law" and harmonize with the viewpoint that some readings of the Constitution are just wrong. Judges, as we conceive them, are not there to dispense opinions having no better origin than their own whimsy. Just as we expect more than mere conclusions from our adversaries in argument, we expect justices to deliver opinions that have some objective source, like reason and fact, and we expect rationales to follow tracks that we ourselves can trace (perhaps tracks of reasoning that are "public") undiverted by the flaws of individual personality.
As much as one might fault the Court for writing, somewhat transparently, in language that pretends to the formalities of found law and objective justice, I think we'd prefer it to the other extreme, where justices merely assert that they like certain ideas and results best, and think the views of cooky Earl Warren and his ilk were plain stupid. (Consider, for instance, the naked vulnerability of a judicial opinion that cites no authority.) And I think we might need the Court to be a singular, perennial institution, not because it lets us pretend that stare decisis means anything, but because it helps us believe that the Constitution is beyond the faults and limits of individual fancy. One Court channeling one Constitution. Sounds like the basis of a safe, secure nation. Alternatively, a haphazard series of differently reasoning, short-sighted, personally prejudiced old lawyers who've been arguing semantics for 200 years--not so comforting, not so responsive to the political majesty we invest in our great document of justice.