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Comment on ‘White House Spars With the Chief Justice’ (Helene Cooper, 03/10/2010)

March 10, 2010

In response to:

White House Spars With the Chief Justice

New York Times | March 10, 2010

How anybody could possibly think that in the modern era the State of the Union address shouldn’t be a political exercise is completely beyond me. It’s the only Constitutionally-sanctioned opportunity for the Executive Branch to speak directly to the Legislative Branch in a public, transparent fashion; the only time that the President can be held accountable for declaring his intent, and Congress for having been told. In an era in which Presidential communications are drowned out by the chattering class & spinmeisters, it’s not only natural that the President should be trying to influence people, it’s one of the primary requirements of the occasion!

Bear in mind, also, that the Supremes are there by invitation, out of respect for their office; they’re not required to attend (and, as we’ve seen, it’s not unusual for members to demur so as not to risk being drawn into the fray). The idea that the President should be expected to hold his tongue on ANY issue he deems important because of their presence is ludicrous and unbalanced — even more so when you consider that it’s the nature of the Supreme Court is to weigh in on the most important and controversial issues of the day. It would seem that by some people’s logic the State of the Union address should stay away those issues simply because it might make the Justices uncomfortable. I can’t think of anything more bizarre.

Secondly, the only tradition of decorum that’s been violated in this whole adventure has been violated by representatives of the conservative wing of the court – Alito when he made a childish face in reaction to hearing something with which he disagreed (which would be rude for any invited guest, never mind for one who’s role is one of supposed political neutrality), and Roberts by whining to a bunch of college students. If the Supreme Court is supposed to be so steeped in dignity and decorum – and that’s a pretty good tradition from what I can see – then what are these two bozos doing politicking? I wonder – could we demand that they recuse themselves from any future discussion of similar issues because they’ve both gone on record with their biases?

There’s a disturbing through-the-looking-glass quality to this entire discussion – we have the Chief Justice, who enjoys lifetime tenure for the sole purpose of insulating him from political  concerns, asserting that the Chief Executive, who’s elected for four years and needs to lead through persuasion, shouldn’t stake out a political position. And doing so in front of a carefully-selected audience of fellow-travelers. I have to ask myself – was there a white rabbit with a pocket watch sitting in the front row?

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