RBG Speaks Truth, Media Goes Nuts

Dammit! RBG has now apologized. She said,

My recent remarks in response to press inquiries were ill-advised and I regret making them.

As far as I’m concerned, she should have hung in there. When you are 83 years old, you are entitled to walk out on the national stage and tell the country the truth.

What exactly was the truth she told? Here’s what Ruth Bader Ginsburg actually said about Trump:

July 7: The AP interviewed her and asked her what would happen if Trump won the election in November:

I don’t want to think about that possibility, but if it should be, then everything is up for grabs.

Truth. Next:

July 8: The New York Times interviewed her. She said,

I can’t imagine what this place would be — I can’t imagine what the country would be — with Donald Trump as our president. For the country, it could be four years. For the court, it could be — I don’t even want to contemplate that.

Truth. Next:

July 11: CNN interviewed her. She said of Trump,

He is a faker. He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego. … How has he gotten away with not turning over his tax returns? The press seems to be very gentle with him on that.

Truth. Every single word. All of it. No one actually disputes it. No one is saying that what she said isn’t true. Her critics, though, are saying she should not have said it. Huh? I thought these were, as everyone says, extraordinary times. Well, then, what’s the problem? Why can’t a distinguished jurist tell the country the truth about Trump?

All of a sudden, after years and years of Scalia and Thomas and Alito waging ideological war on the country via their reactionary rulings, Republicans are worried about Supreme Court justices being “objective.” Yes. That’s right. Texas Senator John Cornyn said of Ruth Bader Ginsburg,

I think she should reconsider and change her course of conduct because I think she’s got into an area that is out of her control.. And that I think will reflect poorly not only on her but on the objectivity that we request and demand out of our federal judiciary.

Cue the laughter. What a knee-slapper.

Speaker Paul Ryan is also suddenly worried about objectivity on the Court. “This clearly calls into question her bias,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper. More laughter. Ryan even brought up Bush v. Gore in the context of bias and objectivity. What a funny guy!

Hear me, my peeps. It’s a fiction that the Supreme Court isn’t a political institution. It most certainly is. Bush v. Gore itself proves it. Beyond that, though, it is a political institution because the presidents who pick its members and the senators who confirm or SPDTC ... because Justice is not blinddeny them are all politicians, politicians with political agendas who want judges to validate those agendas, not strike them down.

Why do you think Republicans are doing what they are doing now to President Obama? They are denying him his constitutional right—duty, really—to appoint another justice to the Court. Remember Judge Merrick Garland? Why isn’t he sitting on the Court right now? Politics. (For the record, Justice Ginsburg told the Times: “There’s nothing in the Constitution that says the president stops being president in his last year.” There might not be anything in the Constitution, but there is something in Mitch McConnell’s political head that says our African-American president has no rights a white man is bound to respect.)

And don’t forget an important fact about today’s Supreme Court. On almost any big issue before the Court, one can, with a high degree of accuracy, predict on what side most of the justices will come down. Especially Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and, before God decided to kill him in his sleep, Antonin Scalia. Again, it is a fantasy that our highest court is somehow immune to bias and politics and ideology. The best we can hope for, and we need to keep hoping for it, is that through the fog of bias and politics and ideology some justice will shine through.

Speaking of Scalia, he was the perfect example of obvious ideological bias on the Court. He (along with Clarence Thomas) spoke at least once at a secret fundraising event sponsored by right-winger Charles Koch. As ThinkProgress also reported,

Scalia also came under ethical fire when he skipped Chief Justice Roberts’ swearing in ceremony to attend a junket to a Ritz-Carlton resort funded by the right-wing Federalist Society.

Objectivity anyone? This is so much fun I’ll go on:

  • In Arizona v. United States—Scalia was on the losing side—the famous conservative justice famously offered negative opinions of President Obama’s immigration policies.
  • In another case, Scalia essentially endorsed ideas that Senator Harry Reid said were “racist in application, if not intent.”
  • Speaking before law students at Georgetown, he criticized the Court’s protection of gay rights by suggesting homosexuals were in the same class as “pederasts” and “child abusers.”
  • Three weeks after the Court agreed to hear a case involving former Vice President Dick Cheney’s desire to keep secret the details of his energy policy strategy sessions, Scalia went duck hunting with Dick. Responding to a question about the propriety of that Dick duck hunt, Scalia said,

It’s acceptable practice to socialize with executive branch officials when there are not personal claims against them. That’s all I’m going to say for now. Quack, quack.

Side-splitting humor.

One more thing about Scalia, may he rest in peace. His bias was actually quantified by political science. A couple of years ago researchers did a study that focused on Supreme Court rulings, going back over 50 years, in cases involving freedom of expression. The study examined whether justices tended to favor free speech in those cases where the speaker’s ideology lined up with their own, either liberal or conservative. Guess what? Here’s how one of the researchers, Lee Epstein of Washington University in St. Louis, put it:

The most pronounced in the data set is Scalia … Just in terms of the pure percentages, if it were a liberal speaker he’d support the free exercise claim in about 21 percent of the cases. But if it were a conservative speaker, [he’d support free exercise claims] in 65 percent of the cases.

Whoops. I don’t remember too many editorials denouncing Scalia’s lopsided preference for conservative speech, do you?

Finally, I want to get to what really bothers me about all this. It is Trump’s reaction and the lack of proper reaction to Trump’s reaction. He first tweeted,

Justice Ginsburg has embarrassed all by making very dumb political statements about me. Her mind is shot-resign!

Wait a minute. Did he really say “her mind is shot”? Donald Trump—Donald Bleeping Trump—is actually sitting in judgment of someone’s mental ability? Yep. He later said, “there’s almost something wrong with her.” Think about that for a second or two. What kind of muddled mind talks that way? In any case, he was asked if he was questioning her mental capacity, to which he said,

Yes, I think I am. I think I am questioning her mental capacity.

Okay. You have a presidential candidate—one who recently launched a racist attack on a federal judge—openly questioning whether a sitting Supreme Court justice is in her right mind. Isn’t that unprecedented? Isn’t that a problem far greater than Ruth Bader Ginsburg telling the truth about Trump? I mean, she didn’t question his mental capacity. She questioned his sincerity and his consistency and his ego and the lack of transparency on his finances. All of those things are legitimate concerns about Trump. Yet, journalists and pundits, even liberal ones, are all torn up about what RBG has done, in terms of how the public might now perceive the impartiality of the Court. The reaction to what Trump said is to ignore it and continue to criticize her. What utter hooey. Doesn’t questioning the sanity of a Supreme Court justice do more to harm the institution than what RBG did?

Let me end this with some wise words from Paul Butler, a law professor and former federal prosecutor, who wrote an op-ed for The New York Times:

When despots have ascended to power in other regimes, one wonders how judges should have responded. Should they have adhered to a code of silence while their country went to hell? Not on the watch of the Notorious R.B.G. She understands that if Trump wins, the rule of law is at risk.

In speaking out, Ginsburg has refused to elevate the appearance of justice over justice itself. The Washington chattering classes may not appreciate the breach of protocol, but history — should the United States remain a democracy – will be a kinder judge.

That, my friends, is absolutely right. Despite her second thoughts now, RBG has done the country a favor by doing what too many journalists, especially those on cable television, refuse to do: she spoke truth to Trump.

______________________

[photo credit: Ginsburg: Allison Shelley/Getty Images; peeping justice: Southern Defender; Scalia: Allen West]

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4 Comments

  1. Good discussion of the issue, Duane.

    I can see both sides of the issue. R.B.G. has decided that the reticent tradition should prevail, notwithstanding Scalia’s violations. But, as you say, the country’s future is at stake here.

    The Constitution itself is of course political. Governance is political. The problem today, as I see it, is that the structure of government, which was intended to force compromise, is failing to withstand the winds of partisanship. So this episode may have worked out for the best. R.B.G. had her say in this unique instance while at the same time the tradition of “objectivity” is still advocated. It’s moribund because of stuff like Scalia and Bush v. Gore, but maybe it can be revived.

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    • Yep. The extreme, ideologically-driven partisanship we see will, if things don’t change, ruin us. Voters who keep sending Republicans back to Washington are to blame, as are those who don’t bother to vote at all.

      And I figured it was inevitable that RBG say something in order to keep folks from freaking out. I just think it is time we stop pretending that the Supreme Court (its rulings especially) isn’t affected by politics. We are all grownups and shouldn’t need handy myths to comfort us, especially after rulings like Citizens United. By this age in our democracy, we should just acknowledge reality and deal with it. Heck, vacancies on the Court are part of what makes this election–the ultimate political statement–so damned important. The other part, of course, is the fairly comprehensive chaos that could be unleashed if Trump is elected. I just think his utter lack of suitability for the job requires extraordinary measures, in terms of people speaking out, and her voice is just one example.

      Speaking of the Constitution, what an oversight by the Founders in not forcing the Senate to at least act, one way or the other, on a president’s Supreme Court nominee. Essentially, the majority can decide to never fill a vacancy if it doesn’t want to and there isn’t a damn thing anyone can do about it until the next election–and then voters only get to vote on a fraction of the culprits! Not only that, some of the voters don’t even give a damn if the Court is full, so long as their political enemy sits in the White’s House. Jeez.

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  2. Absolute tyranny of the supreme court is a conservative wet dream. The real problem with what SCOTUS rules is that congress, even a Democrat controlled congress, just doesn’t take any appropriate action, nor does the President. Why is it so easy to forget that there are three branches of government specifically to prevent tyranny.

    The thing that you are walking around regarding Trump is that the media is being massaged to make Trump look like a qualified nominee. Even Republicans find that hard to believe. You should actually be acting as if Republicans failed to nominate anybody at all. But since you for some reason think that Trump is more scary than he can really be, you insist on projecting fear which just looks so Republican it’s sickening.

    Obama didn’t win because people were terrified that either McCain or Romney were absolute levels of scary. That’s how Obama would have lost. Looking scared looks bad all around.

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    • 1. “The thing that you are walking around regarding Trump is that the media is being massaged to make Trump look like a qualified nominee.” Jesus, dude. I’ve been criticizing the media’s portrayal of Trump forever. Come in from outer space.

      2. “But since you for some reason think that Trump is more scary than he can really be, you insist on projecting fear which just looks so Republican it’s sickening.” I’ll tell you what is sickening. People like you who underestimate how much real damage Trump, who is really, truly a dangerously ignorant and bigoted and narcissistic man, can do to not only people in this country, but around the world. He is scary. He is fucking scary. He is scarier than shit. Apparently you don’t think it is scary that a fascistic egomaniac, who can’t control his impulses, may get his hands on the world’s most powerful nuclear arsenal. And the fact that you don’t is also scary. 

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