Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Justice comes to the party

      Now, isn't that special? Rep. Michelle Bachmann held a Capitol Hill soiree the other day. And who showed up to speak but Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

      We can only imagine what Justice Scalia had to say to members of the House Tea Party Caucus at the "constitutional education class" Bachmann arranged.

      Maybe he said that none should expect him to reinforce anyone's political leanings at such an event. Maybe he scowled and growled that even being invited presented for him a graven conflict of interest.

      More likely, Scalia, with words, winks, nods, grunts or ticks, merrily reinforced the political stylings of his inviters — all the while appearing above the fray.

      What system of signals could a justice contrive for a politically drenched gathering for tea and "constitution education"?

      One lump for, "Obamacare is toast."

      Two stirs for, "Ditto Roe."

      One cream for, "Corporations are people, too."

      One stir for, "Kiss my affirmative action."

      Now, now. Justice Scalia. You needn't be so coy.

      Once we had actual justice, the even-scales kind. Now we have judges who, like many assigned to do government's bidding in a privatized world, contract out their services.

       Gone are the days when justices were philosophical free agents — the Warrens, the Stewarts, the Blackmuns, the O'Connors. Here now: federal courts apportioned like legislatures, with partisan patronage. Only in this case the government contract comes as a lifetime gig. Haliburton-esque.

      That the Scalia wing of the U.S. Supreme Court — Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas on Scalia's coat-tails — boycotted the 2011 State of the Union is a sign that we no longer have a Supreme Court that shares symbolic chambers. We have a court that caucuses in cabals, like — ewww — lawmakers do.

     Scalia has a brilliant mind. Clearly, however, he is less interested in equanimity than in appeasing the political faction that freshens his cup. If this is a mischaracterization, he should fire his social secretary.

     University of Texas law professor Lucas Powe told McLatchy-Tribune newspapers that by Scalia "is taking political partisanship to levels not seen in over half a century." To which his ideological kin say, "Yea, baby."

     So, too, with Justice Thomas, whose wife organized a group seeking to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It's all good, the political right will say. As with our news sources, we don't expect objectivity or even detachment from those who interpret the law. We expect central casting.

     Scalia came through in a big way recently when he said that the 14th Amendment doesn't apply to women victimized by sexual discrimination. He remains of the crowd that says the Constitution only means what its authors had in mind: that "equal protection of the law" protections were assigned to emancipated slaves alone. Any other court interpretation is judicial mischief.

    That couldn't be more out of touch with the way society now interprets the 14th Amendment. And that's just the way the right wants it.

    As said, justice has now become a political game, and that genie isn't going back in the soda pop bottle. Where does that leave us? It leaves us, or should leave us, understanding the stakes inherent in populating the executive branch.

     Back in 2000, a lot of political centrists bought the spiel that George W. Bush was a centrist, too, even when he said that Scalia and Thomas were the kinds of justices he'd appoint. It was not an idle threat.

     The bench having become a political playing field, consider what kinds of politicians you want your president to appoint when the opportunity arises, and vote accordingly.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.


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