What's the difference, really, when we are talking about Supreme Court Justices? In his book "The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court," Jeffrey Toobin uses those words to depict a sharp contrast between Justice Souter and Justice Kennedy, respectively. (Page 52.) But we are talking about people who mainly write judicial opinions, and both men write lengthy opinons that purport to interpret the law.
Toobin portrays Kennedy as a publicity hog -- he "relished his public role and sought out the opinions that would make the newspaper." Moreover, unlike Souter, who always used a fountain pen, he typed "furiously" at his computer. (We're not told the speed at which Souter moves the fountain pen, which makes me think it's probably pretty fast.)
Kennedy "always labored most closely on the sections of opinions that might be quoted in the New York Times." Says who? Of course, we can easily think up a sentence that looks labored over and naturally got quoted by Linda Greenhouse, but does that mean he writes what he writes out of inappropriate personal vanity?
We're told Kennedy "liked to talk... of great 'teaching cases,' that is, opinions that instructed law students on timeless principles." Now, wait a minute. I've used the expression "great teaching case" for years and heard it used even longer, and I don't think it means cases that "instruct students on timeless principles." A great teaching case is a case that has various elements that, taken together, make it work well in the classroom. It's a law professor concept, and -- as Toobin notes on the same page -- Kennedy kept up teaching law school in his summers, both as a Court of Appeals judge and as a Supreme Court Justice. So I assume he's talking about the same thing I understand.
A great teaching case will generally have crisp, exciting facts that engage the students, good arguments on both sides based on text or case law or policy that stimulate classroom debate, a memorable resolution of a significant issue, maybe a vivid dissenting opinion, and lots of room to speculate about the political dynamics underlying the case, the real world impact, and the way the new doctrine will play out in different fact patterns. It doesn't mean the judge dictated some high-level abstractions.
Souter, good. Kennedy, bad.