February 11, 2008

What the Brit learned reading 2 books about the U.S. Supreme Court.

He's lawyer turned columnist, Marcel Berlin:
... I had just finished reading a recent book on the Supreme Court judges: The Nine, by Jeffrey Toobin. What struck me first was how impossible it would be to have such a book here. In the US the nine judges of the highest court are national news: here their equivalent, the 12 law lords, are virtually unknown outside the legal world....

Toobin looks behind the scenes of the court's decision - by a majority of 5-4 - to hand the US presidency to Bush in 2000, following the Florida voting fiasco. His account does not enhance the court's reputation. Reading it made me feel even more strongly than I had before that the case was decided by the majority on primarily political, not legal grounds.

Clarence Thomas, generally regarded as the weakest of the judges, recently published his autobiography, My Grandfather's Son, describing his upbringing as a black child in a poor family in the racist south. It should be an inspiring story. He spoils it by his bitterness, anger, egotism, and the burden of many chips on his shoulders.
Thanks for the pithy summary of your bias.

32 comments:

Rich B said...

Wasn't part of the decision 7-2 that the Florida court's ruling was unconstitutional?

Robert Cook said...

Why do you assume his reaction is "bias?" Do you assume a reader with no prior opinions on these matters or persons should necessarily come away from reading these two books with the same neutrality as before his or her reading? Might it not more fair to assume this is a reasoned conclusion based on the information contained in the two books?

Does any opinion that a reader might express after reading these two books indicate that reader had a pre-existing bias, pro or con?

The perception that Clarence Thomas is a bitter man with a chip (or several) on his shoulder is hardly an unprecedented view.

John Lenin said...

Just imagine the result if Althouse could eliminate her own bias and see Clarence Thomas for who he is!

Roger said...

The most fascination question to me is: What do people who KNOW Clarence Thomas personally think of him. Other than that, we have only the perceptions of the commentariat.

Kirk Parker said...

Wow, Berlin is almost as lame as that "Olive Garden" writer.

B said...

It's sad to know that someone in Britain has an far less factually informed opinion on the Supreme Court than I do, yet draws a salary while using a large media outlet for his idiotic opinions.

Ann Althouse said...

Kirk, I vaguely remember that. Do you have a link for it? Googling "that "Olive Garden" writer" didn't work too well. Some Brit went to an Olive Garden and then went back home and explained America to people?

Kev said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dbp said...

An easy bias detection method: If a commentator only cites the 5-4 decision and not the 7-2 one, they aren't worth listening to. Or vice-versa for that matter. (7-2 but not 5-4)

Kev said...

If I might do the honors for Kirk?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/
bush/story/0,7369,658094,00.html

It's notable for Lilek's brutal evisceration of the author's prejudices. I can't find it on his own blog, but it's reprinted here:

http://blogrecord.blogspot.com/
2002_02_24_archive.html

XWL said...

Here's the original piece by Matthew Engel in the Guardian way back in April 2002.

Here's a version helpfully annotated and dissected by James Lileks.

Grrrrr.

Kev beat me to it. But at least I managed to turn the addresses into links for your convenience.

Kevin said...

Is it just me, or are British commenters wont to be superficial and condescending?

Perhaps it comes from their colonial heritage of knowing what was best for the natives.

Henry said...

Robert Cook, I alert you to this unsupported generalization: "Clarence Thomas [is] generally regarded as the weakest of the judges...." Generally regarded by whom?

In the US the nine judges of the highest court are national news: here their equivalent, the 12 law lords, are virtually unknown outside the legal world....

And here they are:

Lord Bingham of Cornhill, K.G., Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary
Lord Hoffmann, Second Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary
Lord Hope of Craighead
Lord Saville of Newdigate
Lord Scott of Foscote
Lord Rodger of Earlsferry
Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe
Lady Hale of Richmond
Lord Carswell
Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood
Lord Mance
Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury

Lady Hale was the first first female Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, named in 2003.

Alan said...

So Berlin reads Toobin's biased account of Bush v. Gore and it confirms his own bias. Impressive.

SteveR said...

Lord Hope of Craighead?!!

I thought he was in a stall in Minneapolis.

Kirk Parker said...

Ann,

No problem; I'll put my minions Kev and XWL on the task!

:-)

And wow--how could I have forgotten that it was Lileks doing the takedown?

XWL said...

Minion is no longer an acceptable term, I believe the coinage currently en vogue is, "Lackey-American".

Kirk Parker said...

Hey all,

See why I have my, ah, Lackey-Americans do my research for me? They're good at it!

Kev said...

Thanks, X. I thought I had set those up as links, but my html-fu is weak today.

Kev said...

And I prefer 'Servitor,' myself. Sounds more dignified.

Eli Blake said...

Without getting into the merits of Bush v. Gore just keep in mind that the justices who voted in the majority were:

Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy, O'Connor

while the minority were:

Stevens, Souter, Ginsberg, Breyer.

Now, as I said let's not debate whether the decision was right or wrong-- we all have our opinions about that and none of us will change each other's minds. But plainly, it was political (as was the Florida Supreme Court decision for that matter.) To suppose otherwise is to intentionally see the world with blinders.

The correct course of action would have been to refer the election to Congress, as it specifies in the Constitution and which has been done before in disputed elections. And true, the Congress in 2000 was a Republican Congress and would likely have elected Bush anyway, but at least it would have been done in accordance with the will of the founding fathers and therefore even us Democrats would have had to acknowledge that the result had some legitimacy.

Crimso said...

"And true, the Congress in 2000 was a Republican Congress and would likely have elected Bush anyway, but at least it would have been done in accordance with the will of the founding fathers and therefore even us Democrats would have had to acknowledge that the result had some legitimacy."
Are you suggesting the SC didn't have the authority to reach the decisions it did? That there was NO legitimacy to what they did? I put the idea that the SC selected Bush right up there with Clinton got impeached for a blowjob.

Middle Class Guy said...

Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe?

Theo Boehm said...

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood

I really think we don't want to go there.

Crimso said...

"I really think we don't want to go there."

Oh yes we do.

"Lord Saville of Newdigate"

Newdigate?

Theo Boehm said...

Why, oh WHY did you people have to go and link things from Lileks?

I avoid his stuff.  I avert my eyes.  Must...look...away....

Aarghh!  Now I'm going to spend the evening reading the last 6 months of Lileks.com, including the Bleat and the Buzz and everything else he's done, and I won't be able to stop until 2:00 AM, and I will be exhausted at work tomorrow, and my week will be ruined.

It's all your fault!

Middle Class Guy said...

Theo Boehm said...
Aarghh! Now I'm going to spend the evening reading the last 6 months of Lileks.com, including the Bleat and the Buzz and everything else he's done, and I won't be able to stop until 2:00 AM, and I will be exhausted at work tomorrow, and my week will be ruined.

It's all your fault!




Spoken like a true victim. LOL

Elliott A said...

Eli-

I don't believe the vote results in the USSC show political bias as much as ideological bias. The majority voted because they believed the process is the key issue, the minority, the outcome. Basic conservative vs. liberal. I also believe that if the sides of the suit were reversed, they would have voted the same way. Putting aside the numerous arguments about various leagal and constitutional minutae, which I believe teh lawyers amongst us tend to get caught up in, it all boiled down to the basically conservative justices not accepting partial recounts while the liberal ones sought some sort of remedy for the mistakenly cast votes and improperly counted hanging chads.

I believe the USSC was compelled to act since there was a suit broght by Gore. He did have the right to petition Congress and did not choose that route. Live by lawyers and die by lawyers. By what I've seen lately, he clearly died.

rcocean said...

Marcel Berlin.

Interesting name, a French first name and a German city for a last name.
Are we sure he's British?

Oh, wait he's making supercilious pronouncements about the USA based on ignorance and a couple books - of course, he's British.

Simon said...

Henry - and Lady Hale was on C-SPAN with Justice Ginsburg not two weeks ago. Hardly "unknown," but I think the mother country has much to learn from its children.

As to Toobin's book, it's very glib, and someone who had absolutely no prior knowledge of the Supreme Court might well have such a reaction. In due course, he'll no doubt educate himself and think better of it. (Speaking of CSPAN, Toobin was on there the other week too, and came off a lot better in that context than in his book. I rather liked him on television.)

Simon said...

Eli Blake said...
"Now, as I said let's not debate whether the decision was right or wrong-- we all have our opinions about that and none of us will change each other's minds. But plainly, it was political (as was the Florida Supreme Court decision for that matter.)"

I think Ann's Conflicts of Judicial Orthodoxy article remains probably the best (that is, most interesting, perspicacious and thought-provoking) take on the case.

Sigivald said...

Eli: The problem with "refer it to Congress" being that the Constitution doesn't actually say that can be done in that circumstance.

The House or Senate, variously, get to choose the President in case of a tie or in case of a plurality result.

No other conditions are specified by Article II, Section 1 in which they bear that power.

(The only two times Congress has decided a Presidential election, that I could find, were 1800 and 1824, which involved a tie and a plurality; both the enumerated conditions.)

Your solution may be pragmatic, but it's not Constitutional.