Friday, May 4, 2012

Pay No Attention to the Court Behind the Curtain

The image they want us to have, really, they do, is of nine berobed men and women deep in thought, carefully analyzing and parsing, picking apart arguments for logic and coherence, deeply, intensely, completely committed to ensuring that the republic will not only endure but that it will be THE REPUBLIC, the one the framers envisioned.
They have strong views about matters of public policy, but they set them aside every time and decide with dispassion and disinterest.  Getting it right is all that matters, preferences be damned.
Wrapped in their self-importance and power (Newt thinks they should be ignored, but Newt lost; Jackson did ignore them, but Jackson's dead), cadavered in their marbled edifice, these graduates of Harvard and Yale (9 out 9 attended law school at one or the other) probably believe it themselves.
Even when it's an obvious lie.  (See, for instance, Bush v. Gore.)
Oh, it's not unusual for one to call the others out in a dissent.  Scalia does it with some regularity.  Thurgood Marshall did it in memorably and with careful and substantive analysis in Payne v. Tennessee. He began this way.
Power, not reason, is the new currency of this Court's decisionmaking. . . . Neither the law nor the facts . . . underwent any change in the last four years. Only the personnel of this Court did.
But even then they all go out for drinks and cigars, smug in their integrity.
They pride themselves in working in a building that has, etched in its facade,
Surely a noble ideal.
And there it is, expressed right over the main entrance. 
You know, the one they turned into an exit only.  Equal justice under law on the way out.
And now the ultimate admission.  That rich courtroom, surprisingly intimate, filled with lawyers and tourists and those who just want to be in the presence.  
It's a prop.
I'd call it a Hollywood set, but they actually built those things on the studio back lots.
No, this is theater.  Grand guignol.  
The Supreme Court building was constructed in 1935.  Seventy years later, a chunk of the marble facade fell off and crashed into the plaza.  In a burst of humanity, and despite the fact that the Constitution was silent on the subject, nobody was injured.  Still, it was a sign.
The damn thing is crumbling.
So they put up protective netting and hired experts and read briefs and held oral argument examined and considered and concluded that they had to do a massive repair job.
It begins next week and will take about 21 months, they announced in a press release.
The project will require the erection of scaffolding on the west side of the building.  The scaffolding and ongoing conservation work will be concealed by a scrim that will mimic the Court’s architecture.
So they're hanging a curtain. With a painting of the front of the court.  Or maybe a photo.

And don't worry about getting in past the scaffolding and the curtain.  Remember, the front door is a sham anyway.  The public, like all good supplicants, has to use the servant's entrance on the side.
Because EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW is, after all, just a phrase.
At the scotusblog, Lyle Denniston (hat tip for this news, by the way) poses the facetious question.
Which is the real Supreme Court?
The proper question is whether there is such a thing or it's all just a bit of showmanship.  Smoke and mirrors.
Concurring in Brown v. Allen, Justice Jackson explained.
We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final.
Pull back the curtain - or hang it - and that becomes especially clear.

No comments:

Post a Comment