The Supreme Court is getting one of its periodic moments in the sun and I’d be foolish not to take advantage of that built in level of audience engagement to talk about nominations to the high court.
So, here’s the thing about Supreme Court nominations…
Presidents can have a short list of nominees that scratch every itch and check off the right boxes proving their conservative or liberal credentials. The talking heads can know with perfect certainty what the nominee will do once they’re confirmed by the Senate.
The catch is, once a Justice takes the bench, with a lifetime appoint to the last job they’re ever going to have, well, what we think we know means absolutely nothing.
Sandra Day O’Conner was nominated by Ronald Reagan and was supposed to be a vaguely right of center anchor for the Court who became a regular swing vote. Eisenhower nominated Earl Warren as Chief Justice and the Warren Court became one of the most liberal incarnations of the Supreme Court in American history. Harry Blackmun was a Nixon nominee who went on to write the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade.
The story of Supreme Court nominees turned Justices is filled with disappointed presidents who didn’t get what they expected.
I’m not in any way pretending that a nominee’s history of jurisprudence is irrelevant, but I am saying that past is not always prologue. Justices sit on the bench for decades. Expecting their judicial philosophy to remain static over twenty or thirty years is patently ridiculous. How many of your own beliefs have grown, been refined, changed, or moderated over the last twenty years?
The story of the Supreme Court is filled with men and women on both ideological sides who “grew into” their position at the pinnacle of the Judicial Branch. I can’t imagine why future nominees would be any less “surprising” once they’ve been seated.
It will come as a surprise to no one who really knows me that I stayed as far away from math and science as possible during my four years as an undergrad. I could muddle through the work and scrape through with C’s, but I had no aptitude for it, no talent. Turn me loose in Dunkle Hall for History of Whatever or Guild for political science and I was in my element.
Increasingly it feels like many of the old maximums of political science I learned 20+ years ago don’t really apply to the study of politics in 21st century America. Despite the formal education and a few decades of reading I find myself feeling like a stranger in a strange land more and more often.
Still, though, some of the old truisms were true for a reason. While lecturing on the role of the Judiciary, Dr. Simpson was fond of reminding us that “the Supreme Court isn’t final because they’re right – They’re right because they’re final.” It’s one of those deeper truths wrapped in a easy to understand package. For good or bad, short of amending the Constitution, there’s simply no mechanism to allow for appeal beyond the Supreme Court.
Listning to the talking heads today, many of them seem to forget that the same is true when the Senate sits as a court of impeachment. That body has sweeping latitude to set the terms of the trial and the outcome belongs to them alone to decide. What the House thinks, or the president thinks, or what the latest polls show is a bit of interesting, but not particularly relevant detail.
In cases of impeachment, the Senate is right simply by virtue of being final. If you don’t like the results, if you don’t like how you’re being represented in this republic of ours, then the onus is on you to secure different representation at the ballot box… but running around whimpering that “the Senate got it wrong” makes you sound like a schmuck.
1. I try to read for an hour before going to bed every night. It’s a habit I’ve been in for years. Lately, though, my eyes are so tired and scratchy that it’s impossible to do comfortably. Since I regularly have my eyes checked and there’s no apparent problem with them, I can only assume the amount of screen time, reading, and writing I do during the rest of the day is catching up with me by the time I’m ready to kick back with a few chapters of the book of the moment.
2. Character assassination. When you attack someone’s character, I have no idea how you can reasonably be surprised when they push back at you hard. Accuse me of something I didn’t do and you’re damned right I’m going to get vocal about it… but when it’s being fronted by holier than thou members of Congress with their 16% approval rating, well, they deserve every every cross word and glare sent in their direction. Being told to defend yourself by proving a negative in the absence of any actual evidence against you has got to be an immensely maddening situation. Reacting with feigned shock when a man speaks out in his own defense in that situation is appalling.
3. Rain. For Christ’s sake can we just get a 48 hour break from all the damned rain. The back yard is such a mud pit that I’d be better off opening a brick-making factory than pretending to even think about fall yard work.
Note: I usually let each edition of WAJTW stretch broadly across three topic areas. On rare occasions, I feel compelled to focus in on just one. This is one of those weeks.
Because I refuse to let my social media feeds descend into a single ideology echo chamber, I’m seeing a lot of posts screaming that Justice Kennedy is a “bad man” or has “betrayed the country” buy announcing his retirement. While everyone is entitled to have and voice their opinion, the simple act of having or voicing that opinion doesn’t necessarily make you right.
Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy is 82 years old. He was first appointed to the federal bench by President Gerald Ford. Take a breath and let that sink in. He was appointed to the US Court of Appeals in 1975 and elevated to the Supreme Court in 1988. Take another breath. That means he has been serving his country as a judge for more than 40 years – longer than I’ve been alive and certainly longer than the angsty millennials who seem to make up the largest block of those calling him a “traitor” have been around.
I don’t always agree with Justice Kennedy’s reading of the law, but after entering his 9th decade and serving 43 years on the federal bench, I’d say he’s entitled to move off into retirement any damned time he wants to. If you think an 82 year old man wanting to retire is an act of political cowardice, I suspect you’re the one who has a particularly craven view of politics.
Here’s a pro tip – if you can’t somehow manage to see life through any lens other than politics, go outside for a while, or pick up a book, or watch a movie, or do whatever you need to do to get your head a little unfucked. Seriously. Do it. You’ll thank me later.
1. Summer. I can’t help but notice in the last week or so that we’ve entered the part of the year when I drive by the local high school twice a day and find its parking lot absolutely empty. I’m not even going to try getting into a discussion about teaching, whether it’s an over paid or under paid profession, or even whether it should be open for business year round. For good or ill, we’re still using the 10-on, 2-off schedule of the agrarian age… and as long as we are I will continue to be insanely jealous of our nation’s teachers whenever I drive past on a beautiful summer morning and find them not there. June, July, and August are truly the only three things I miss about teaching… and if I’m perfectly honest with everyone, I’m already looking forward just a little bit to that day in August when they’re stuck back in the grind with the rest of us.
2. “Working families”-based legislation. I’ve noticed this week that the administration is trotting out the whole “working parents” discussion again. Look, I get that having a job and balancing everything else in your life is at best a challenge and at worst an exercise in futility. For working parents, I can understand that taking care of your kids is your first priority. That’s good. That’s how it should be. On the other hand, since I’ve opted not to go that route, I think it needs said that I don’t consider my own top priority items any less important to me than yours are to you. Every time I hear a politician spout something about making life easier for working families, my middle finger gives a little twitch. How about we come up with a few programs that makes life easier for employees in general rather than just a subset of the group? Trust me, I don’t value paid time off or a more flexible schedule any less than you do just because my dependents have four legs and fur (or scales).
3. Lack of focus. Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States issued a unanimous ruling that law enforcement could not unilaterally search your cell phone without a warrant or in the most extreme of emergency situations. Read that again. It was a unanimous opinion of the court. A win for personal privacy doesn’t get much more decisive than that. But we’re collectively paying more attention to grown men kicking a ball or whatever celebri-skank did something whoretastic this week. Whether you agree with my assessments of daily events or not, I’d consider it hugely helpful if we could all at least try to pay a little attention to something beyond what’s “reported” on TMZ or ESPN.
Delayed, but not forgotten, here’s your rundown of What Annoys Jeff this Week…
1. I don’t like universal healthcare as a concept, but I do like that the court has insisted on calling mandatory health insurance what it is: a tax, just like all the other taxes we pay but whose purpose we may not necessarily agree with. I’m annoyed by people who say “the court got it wrong.” The court didn’t get it any more wrong this time than they did a million years ago when they controversially ruled in Bush v. Gore. As an aside, it’s about time we collectively figure out that just because we don’t like something doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s “wrong.” All it means is that we don’t like it. Nine pretty smart people made a decision based on their interpretation of the law, nothing more, nothing less. That puts the issue of health care and insurance squarely back in the political arena, so take it up with your Member of Congress, not the court.
2. Lack of Proper Planning. I heard a rumor once that proper planning prevents piss poor performance. If I ever get the opportunity to experience proper planning in person, I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, I’ll just go ahead and continue to expect “performance issues.”
3. Arson laws. If I want to set my house on fire and let it burn it to the ground, I should be perfectly within my rights to do so. That would so much pent up aggravation. Alternately, expensive things could just stop needing repaired. Either way works.