Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Supremes - Court, That Is

I've been absolutely obsessing about the Supreme Court over the past couple of years. I suppose that it began with the mind boggling Citizens United decision proclaiming that a corporation can be considered a person for various reasons that, of course, involve $$$$$. I was angered and appalled by this decision but still had to stifle a shocked gasp when the president called the nine justices out on it during  last year's state of the union address.

Now, in an unfathomable decision, the nine - well actually the same five of the nine - have allowed that strip searching should continue in perpetuity for anyone, anywhere who is brought into a police station, even before they're arrested or found guilty of anything. How can this possibly hold up in the so called "greatest democracy in the world?" As a former protester who may become one again once I stop working for the government, I could theoretically be arrested for speaking my mind about an issue dear to my heart, brought into the sheriff's office and searched for potential contraband. What would that be exactly? A pen or pencil secreted in an orifice?

Presently the Supreme Court has heard arguments and is deliberating on probably the most important case in a generation, The Affordable Health Care Act. My curiosity got the best of me and I began listening to court watcher and legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin's 2008 look at the history of the Supreme Court. The Nine; Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court is, believe it or not, compelling reading. There is absolutely nothing dry about Toobin's writing style or about the narrator's (Don Leslie) delivery. In fact, I'm walking more this week and playing in the yard longer because I hate to turn it off.

As a self-professed political junky, I am in perpetual amazement at the machinations and back room deals that go into choosing whom to elevate to a seat on the Supreme Court. For a president it is the opportunity of a lifetime to shape future litigation and laws that are in concert with your own ideals but often luck is the major factor. Timing can be everything. Depending upon your politics, you might find this to be a good or a bad thing, but it does appear that the courts tend to reflect the thinking of their times and judges who see the constitution as a living, breathing document can't help but be more reflective than the Federalists, Thomas and Scalia to name two,  who see it as a document written in stone. If that were really true then, by virtue of the color of his skin and a family history steeped in slavery, Clarence Thomas would still only be considered 3/5 of a man when it comes to government representation.

Toobin treats readers to a fascinating look at the thinking of the presidents and their advisors from Reagan to Bush (W), the incredibly invasive vetting process that has eliminated some of the best qualified men and women from the high court, including a man who was being treated for cancer and gave an oncologist access to his entire medical history to make a determination on his life span. (He didn't pass muster) Bill Clinton's agonizingly long process that finally gave us the marvelous Ruth Bader Ginsberg is a great tale of the right outcome for the wrong reasons. Thank you Janet Reno! And don't forget the protector of Roe v. Wade, Sandra Day O'Connor, who surprised the conservative Reagan with her sensible toughness.

I can't recommend this book enough for the insights into one of our most important political processes, the one with the longest lasting effect on all of our lives. Toobin is still at it and will release an update in September called The Oath; The Obama White House v. The Supreme Court. Should be a doozy!

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