Archive for May 27th, 2009

Sessions on Sotomayer

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

It’s amazing to me, the things Republicans say about Supreme Court nominees, with a straight face.

Here’s Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, in the latest AP article (“No filibuster, but Sotomayer battle still looms“):

We have an absolute constitutional duty to make sure that any nominee, no matter what their background and what kind of life story they have, that we examine that so the American people can know that the person we give a lifetime appointment to … will be faithful to the law and not allow their personal views to influence decision-making.

The Republicans want automatons, who read the law and spew out the answers, without regard to their own “personal views” and life experience. As if there were some pure rendering of the Constitution that could be gleaned, over and over, without regard to who we are, what we’ve read, where we went to school, who our parents are, who we married, whether we have children, whether or not we’ve been discriminated against, or victimized, or grown up in a Housing project.

Why do we need people to do this? Wouldn’t it just be better to have some kind of sophisticated computer system — like the BCS, used by college football to pick the two best teams each year for the national championship game — that could take in all the data and spit out the answer Rhenquist would have loved, over and over and over again?

I’m sure Iphone could make an app for that.

I have a friend here in Ohio, a Jewish Republican, running for statewide office. He is a marine, fought in Iraq. In high school, he was the quarterback of his football team, a public high school. His team was a melting pot for blacks and Jews, he told me. But as they travelled around Ohio, they often encountered anti-Semitism and racism. Once, they travelled to Cleveland for a game, walked into the visitor’s lockerroom, and, there on the chalkboard was a Swastika, with the message: “Go Home Blacks and Jews.”

(I’m happy to report, the road team won the game.)

That’s the kind of life experience that I’d want my Supreme Court Justice to have, and — yes — to draw upon, when making decisions about, say, hate crime law. Or anything else.

There’s a killer New Yorker article this week, about Chief Justice John Roberts. It quotes Roberts, from his confirmation hearings — an illuminating take on exactly what Republicans mean when they talk about being “faithful to the law”:

Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules. They apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire.

Yet the New Yorker goes on to report:

In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican party.

We are supposed to believe that in each and every case, he has been faithful to some objective constitutional law, as laid down by the Framers, and not, as Sessions put it, allowed his personal views to impact his decision making?

It’s incredible to me, too, that the media generally accepts this line of argument without challenge. (Wait for it — we’ll hear it over and over during the Sotomayer confirmation trials from the GOP side.)

You don’t have to look very far to see just how Roberts’ personal views impact his decisions. He has a filter, and he uses it, just like the rest of us.

The New Yorker mentions a case in Connecticut, brought by white firefighters “denied promotions even though they scored better than black applicants on a test.” Roberts, siding with the firefighters, grilled the lawyer defending the city:

Now why is this not intentional discrimination? You are going to have to explain that to me again, because there are particular individuals here. And they say they didn’t get their jobs because of intentional racial action by the city. … All you care about is who is getting the promotion. All you care about is his race.

Sounds to me like his personal views are influencing his decision making.

Roberts was the captain of his football team in high school. Here’s a guess: he never walked into a lockerroom, saw a slur on a chalkboard, and felt — they’re talking to me. It’s me they hate.

It might not change his decision. But I bet it would influence him. As it should.

‘Neurotic Democrat???’

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

The other day, I received an email from a friend, slugged: ‘Neurotic Democrat???’

He wrote:

You’ve been slacking on your blog updates. Not one single solitary post since 2/2/09?

It’s been a busy four months. Among many, many other things, I’ve been working on a novel. I’ve also found it more difficult, since the election, to find my voice. During the election, things seemed fairly black and white, no pun intended. We’ve entered a political world — thank god — where the defining characteristic seems to be shades of gray.

To wit, this headline, currently leading the NY Times Web page: “On Sotomayor, Some Abortion Rights Advocates Show Unease.”

Did anyone ever think that a few months into Obama’s term, we’d be reading this:

Some liberal leaders are quietly expressing unease that Judge Sotomayor may not be a reliable vote to uphold Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 abortion rights decision. In a letter to supporters, Nancy Keenan, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League, urged them to pressure senators to demand that Judge Sotomayor reveal her views on privacy rights before any confirmation vote.

To be sure, most abortion rights backers — myself included — believe Sotomayer will support a woman’s right to choose. But there’s another dimension to this. My sister, an attorney and ardent supporter of a woman’s right to choose, has long tried to explain to me that Roe v. Wade is in fact not a well argued or solid foundation for those rights. Might Sotomayor support a woman’s right to choose, without supporting Roe v. Wade? And, an equally important followup: Is there any way at all for this court to sustain a federal right to choice, while at the same time striking down Roe?

As I say, shades of gray.

In any event, thanks, Michael, for the kick in the ass. It’s good to be back.