November 9, 2005

A reinvigorated Supreme Court.

Linda Greenhouse describes the Supreme Court "in the midst of a generational shift": an aging Justice tells the new young Chief Justice to call them by their first names ("I'm Nino"); Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was seen about town "laughing and kidding" with her husband; Justice Thomas asked two questions at an oral argument the other day (amazing!); Justice Stevens cracked a (very mild) joke on the bench the other day.

As Greenhouse analyzes it, it's not so much the arrival of a vigorous new man as being free of the the sickly old man:
The explanation for the court's mood is no mystery. It is relief. The justices who lived through the long year of Chief Justice Rehnquist's battle with thyroid cancer are survivors of a collective trauma, the dimensions of which are obvious only in retrospect.
After a description of that "trauma," which culminates at Rehnquist's funeral, Greenhouse's article ends with these two paragraphs:
Flash forward barely two months to an ordinary argument day in the courtroom, when a light bulb above the bench suddenly exploded with a jarring bang that brought court police officers to their feet. There was a tense silence before the benign explanation became clear. It was "a trick they play on new chief justices all the time," Chief Justice Roberts commented.

The incident occurred on Halloween, not a day when the chief justice could linger in his chambers. He had to get home, where, disguised as Groucho Marx, this father of two young children greeted the neighborhood trick-or-treaters at his front door.
The NYT, perhaps, found it "unfit to print" a transition that would have connected the trauma of William Rehnquist's death to the Halloween lightbulb burst and the new Chief Justice dressed as a zany comedian. Surely, it must have been tempting to write that it was the ghost of the old Chief that burst the bulb and that the new Chief's costume speaks of lighthearted happiness, while the dying old Chief, traumatizing everyone, by contrast seemed a ghoul.

14 comments:

Goesh said...

Refreshing indeed to read this - it gives me a bit of faith and hope, it really does, and dispels the impression of the Court being a dark, cold, very gloomy, dire, forboding place. And it certainly dispels the lingering, dark rumors of high-handed Clarence putting pesticides in Rheinquist's tea. Such rumors circulate amongst the commoners you know. You maybe don't believe that, Ms. Ann, but it's true.

Ron said...

Nino, Alito, and Roberts-o; the new humor wing of the court!


Zeppo and Gummo are, of course, back in private practice.

Ann Althouse said...

Ron: Very good. But don't knock Zeppo. He was the funniest of the brothers in real life, it's been said. On screen, he's made to play a straight man, but if you pay attention, you'll see he's quite hilarious. Gummo, I have nothing to say about.

P. Froward said...

Stonewalling on the Gummo Question, eh?

Well, I think the People Have a Right to Know, if you want to know what I think.

StrangerInTheseParts said...

The brothers all called Zeppo "Zippo" because he was so quick (on his feet as well as with his tongue). "Zeppo" was just a typo on a poster that stuck.

Re: The collective "trauma". That's a harsh word for a fairly normal process - being with someone who is dying. Should he not have been working when he was so sick? Maybe. Was it kind of cool that he kept working while he was so sick? Kinda.

Either way, it was probably gloomy being around him for the last year. That's not necessarily a 'trauma' - just sobering and sad. Perhaps it gave the rest of the elder courtsfolk a mirror to hold up to their own aging. They can choose with some added wisdom now whether they will stay on till the last breath or not.

Ron said...

probably NYT quote: "But what did Gummo know? and when did he know it? Is Rove in involved? Why was Plame's codename, 'Mrs. Rittenhouse?'"

and why do we like Althouse? Because SCOTUS posts can come to the comedic rescue of Zeppo Marx; the rich mileau continues...

vbspurs said...

He had to get home, where, disguised as Groucho Marx, this father of two young children greeted the neighborhood trick-or-treaters at his front door.

Are you serious? This is SO humanising.

Just the thought of our Supreme Court Justice one day presiding in his black robes, referring to Kelo or Griswold one moment, and then putting on a huge black moustache and big nosed glasses the next is enough to make me wheeze!

And (oh no!), why do I get a hysterical mental visual of the 9 SCOTUS justices having a chamber door popped open, say by Harriet Miers, and all of them spilling out at once??

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

Stonewalling on the Gummo Question, eh?

Well, I think the People Have a Right to Know, if you want to know what I think.


*LOL*

That reminds me of the Volokh commenter who, having read that his old prof was making his Princeton thesis public, said he was waiting for his 2nd grade book report.

Because, you know, it's never too early to have a Roe v. Wade opinion!

Cheers,
Victoria

PatCA said...

Wow, what's next? "SCOTUS or Bupkus," the new reality show?

See attorneys make their oral arguments! See the conference room, as Roberts and Ruth BG (the new Caroline?) mull over their ruling.

Who will be sent home? See the taxi ride home with lawyer trying to explain to client what went wrong!

Troy said...

A Gummo reference. [sigh] my day is made. Now if Mrs. Roberts put on an evening gown and dressed as Margaret Dumont THAT would be perfect.


Reinvigoration... I agree "trauma" is a bit strong, but I know when my Grandmother (who lived with us) passed on after a few years of slow death from congestive heart failure, oxygen tanks, et al. there was a relief. We grieved while she was with us and the funeral was a catharsis. The exact same thing most likely happened to this group of people. A new day in the SCOTUS.

Wade_Garrett said...

This isn't about the Supreme Court, but rather the Marx Brothers. I read once that Margaret Dumont never really had a sense of humor, that most of her real-life humor was unintentional. The Marx Brothers would try their jokes out on her and, if she laughed, they threw that joke out. If she just sat there and didn't laugh, they knew it was funny.

Ron said...

And (oh no!), why do I get a hysterical mental visual of the 9 SCOTUS justices having a chamber door popped open, say by Harriet Miers, and all of them spilling out at once?? ...two more hard-boiled eggs!

Kelo?
atsa no good, there ain't no sanity clause!

Harriet Meirs?
How'd you like to feel the way she looks?

Dems on Alito nomination?
No matter what the lower courts say, it makes no difference anyway, they're against it! No matter who started or commenced it, they're against it!

amba said...

The King is dead, long live the King.

You've touched an archetypal nerve. The vitality of the whole community wanes and waxes with the death and rebirth of its king.

vbspurs said...

This isn't about the Supreme Court, but rather the Marx Brothers.

Damn skimpy.

I read once that Margaret Dumont never really had a sense of humor, that most of her real-life humor was unintentional. The Marx Brothers would try their jokes out on her and, if she laughed, they threw that joke out. If she just sat there and didn't laugh, they knew it was funny.

That's what you'd think, right? Groucho himself said it often enough, "she never got any of our jokes".

I don't disagree with that (who would I be to?), but I also think she wasn't the patsy she made herself out to be.

You can tell in a lot of the scenes that she was going along with the gags just fine, fully aware of what was expected of her as a "straight man".

The proof would be in the outtakes of the Marx Bros films, and I've never seen any -- have you guys?

Either way, the Marx Bros, all of them, including Gummo, the harp, and Margaret Dumont, were da bomb.

No one, especially not those rip-offs, the Ritz Bros, have come close in 70 years.

Cheers,
Victoria