Sign up for our newsletters   

Baltimore City Paper home.
Print Email

Political Animal

Supreme Jerk

By Brian Morton | Posted 8/31/2005

Back in 1970, President Richard Nixon nominated G. Harrold Carswell of Florida to the Supreme Court, fresh off the Senate’s rejection of South Carolina’s Clement Haynesworth, who was the first high-court nominee to be given the thumbs down since the 1930s.

A study done by Columbia Law School students found that Carswell, a Court of Appeals judge on the Fifth Circuit, had been reversed an outrageous 58 percent of the time during his years in his prior position as a federal district court judge. It was information like this that allowed his opponents to tag him as “mediocre.”

Nebraska Republican Sen. Roman Hruska then made his most famous dive into the history books with his famous “in defense of mediocrity” speech:

“Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers,” Hruska told reporters outside the Senate chamber. “They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises and Cardozos and Frankfurters and stuff like that there.” Despite such a ringing endorsement of a schmo for the nation’s highest court, the Senate voted down Carswell’s nomination 51-45, with 13 Republicans crossing the aisle.

Here we are, 35 years later, with another Republican nominee before us, John Roberts Jr. No one would dare call Roberts unqualified or even mediocre; he is, by most accounts, a stellar attorney. Since the Senate 35 years ago deigned to create a “mediocrity seat” on the court, it is up to us here at Animal Control to point out that if there’s one thing Roberts can safely be accused of, it is that he is an asshole.

Carswell himself might have qualified as a twofer had he ascended to the Supreme Court. After all, according to John W. Dean’s 2001 book The Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Appointment That Redefined the Supreme Court, the media reported comments that Carswell made to an American Legion group: “The so-called civil rights program [would] better be called the civil wrongs program.” Given that this was 1970, the year this writer was happily playing with his integrated third-grade schoolmates in an innocently sheltered classroom in Boulder, Colo., in hindsight we can clearly say that this made Carswell an asshole.

But if one thing stands out to us now, it is Carswell’s phraseology: the “so-called” civil rights program, as he put it. Jump forward to the early 1980s, when Roberts was a young hotshot attorney working in Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department. Roberts wrote a memo snorting at the proposed Equal Rights Amendment, sniffing that it was written to try and “bridge the purported ‘gender gap.’”

As’s Dahlia Lithwick pointed out in an Aug. 19 story, “In a later memo, Roberts referenced a proposal from a Reagan supporter for elevating Sandra Day O’Connor to chief justice and appointing a second woman to replace her if Warren Burger retired.” Lithwick writes Roberts’ snide rejoinder was “‘Presto! The gender gap vanishes.’”

A “purported” gender gap? Sounds mighty close to a “so-called civil rights program,” doesn’t it? When things are true and right-wingers don’t want them to be true, the “so-called” or “purported” phraseology is a favored tactic to mock and deride their targets (although we here at Animal Control aren’t above using it ourselves, since it pisses off the wing nuts).

Roberts again uses a similar construction when in 1983 he slagged what he called “perceived problems of gender discrimination” when he was assigned to review (then a Reagan administration staffer/now one of North Carolina’s U.S. senators) Elizabeth Dole’s “Fifty States Project,” which Dole had created to compare how various states measured up on women’s rights.

According to an Aug. 18 USA Today article, “Roberts found the state-by-state breakdown ‘highly objectionable.’” In the review of Dole’s report, Roberts mentions what he called California’s “staggeringly pernicious law codifying the anti-capitalist idea of ‘comparable worth’” when it came to men’s vs. women’s pay scales. In Roberts’ world, there’s no consideration of the thought that a woman doing the same work as a man perhaps ought to be paid the same amount. By Jove, it’s anti-capitalist.

In these views and others, Roberts shows his true colors: He is the same as my old fraternity brothers who used to shout en masse from the front steps of our frat house at groups of sorority women walking by, “What runs the world? TESTOSTERONE!” And you could almost hear the thoughts of those women as they walked by: Assholes.

There’s a good chance that, unlike G. Harrold Carswell, John Roberts Jr. will make it to the highest court in the land, despite his “so-called” good nature. Even though his opinions place him back in the 1950s when it comes to women, to paraphrase the good Sen. Hruska back in 1970, the assholes of America deserve a little representation, too.

Related stories

Political Animal archives

More from Brian Morton

The Fix (8/4/2010)

Police State (7/7/2010)

Funny Business (6/9/2010)

Comments powered by Disqus
CP on Facebook
CP on Twitter