Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Slightly Less Than Supreme

The Triangle of the Week is morphing into a debate about the human beings behind the Supreme Court's robed figures.

The overture to Anita Hill by Mrs. Clarence Thomas, piquant as it may be, leads to speculation about her career as head of Liberty Central to oppose the "tyranny" of the Obama Administration and from there to the increasingly overt politicization of the Court.

On the day she left the now-famous message, Mrs. Thomas was profiled in the New York Times, citing "the most partisan role ever for a spouse of a justice on the nation’s highest court, and Mrs. Thomas is just getting started. 'Liberty Central will be bigger than the Tea Party movement,' she told Fox News in April, at a Tea Party rally in Atlanta."

Imagine the reaction on the Right if Justice Ginsburg's husband had been panhandling for ultra-liberal attack ads. (In contrast, Martin Ginsburg, a law professor and amateur chef who died in June, once told a reporter that "my wife does not give me any advice about cooking, and I do not give her advice about the law.")

Now, in the final days of campaigning, the Citizens United decision, which the President denounced in the State of the Union to a headshake from Justice Alito, is looming large in the surge of Republican money to drown Democratic incumbents.

Bad enough for the Roberts Court to have opened the floodgates, but having the wife of one pouring the muck is insult to injury.

In a symposium inspired by all this, one Supreme Court scholar notes, "While we no longer believe that justices are 'black-robed gods,' as they were routinely described until the 1930s, we do expect them to perform a feat that is, on a certain level, perceive their own biases, confront their own prejudices and wrestle them down. Subdue them. Refuse to be governed by them.

"This is the 'judicial temperament,' as it’s known, and Lord knows it can’t come easily."

These days, what does? But if the last bastion of government not under frontal attack by the forces of ignorance starts to crumble, the worst fears of the Tea Party about destruction of American values may well come to pass, leaving us all to ponder the wisdom of Pogo: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

The voting on November 2 is about more than which flavor of folly dominates the next Congress. If ignorant insurgents take over a Republican majority, will be this Supreme Court be willing and able to curb their excesses?

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