Court Jesting

Like vultures to a carcass, legal commentators swarmed this past weekend over the 2005-2006 Supreme Court term to analyze, discuss, and pontificate about what the Justices' written opinions mean and do not mean. Columnist George Will, for example, wrote a piece in the Post criticizing the Court's majority in last week's redistricting case. Not surprisingly, Will believes the Justices should have stayed away from the "electoral thicket" altogether. Repeating the mantra of the right, he wrote: "Thus does constitutional doctrine become little more than the judiciary's temperament or the temper of the times. But elections, not courts, are supposed to take the nation's temperature."

Then there was a piece from Dahlia Lithwick, the superb legal analyst and commentator for, who also writes for the Post. Lithwick is quite simply at the top of our craft and her piece Sunday about Justice Anthony Kennedy and his role on the Court was so good that I wish I had written it myself. Well, actually, I had. I wrote a similar piece about Kennedy which soon will be published and posted (more details to follow). Lithwick's angle? "On all the most divisive issues, today's court is now a Supreme Court of One," she wrote. That "One" is Justice Kennedy.

Lithwick (who, full disclosure, I consider a friend and a mentor), apparently doesn't agree with Will's assessement of the Court's contentious redistricting decision. I don't, either. But she and I disagree on whether Justice Kennedy's ability to stem the Court's conservative tide really is a surprise or not. I said no. She said yes. In my piece, I focused upon all those commentators who last fall predicted that Justice Kennedy would take over Justice O Sandra Day O'Connor's swing seat on the Court. Lithwick focused instead upon all those commentators who predicted that the switch from Justice O'Connor to Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. would shift the Court to the right.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg's Greg Stohr chimed in with this piece which contends that the additions of a Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. did little to change the balance on the Court, a proposition with which neither Lithwick nor I agree. And another preeminent legal commentator, Jeffrey Rosen, focused upon the emotions of the Justices as a result of the landmark Guantanamo Bay ruling. And the Christian Science Monitor's Warren Richey also decided, like so many of us, to focus his attentions on the emergence of Justice Kennedy's swing-vote power.

In the end, these post-mortems of a Supreme Court term don't make much of a difference to the world of the law. They either create "conventional wisdom" about the Court or they destroy conventional wisdoms and myths that prior commentators had created about the Court with their post-mortems. In this sense, all the words and theories and spin and analysis is indeed a lot like the cycle of life on the African plains, which always seems to end, at least on television, with the scavengers picking away at a body.

By Andrew Cohen |  July 3, 2006; 10:30 AM ET
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In reading all the items written about the Hamdan ruling, there is an omission. Does anyone realize that with one more Bush appointment, the decision comes down the other way?

Posted by: Michel Weisz | July 3, 2006 11:03 AM

is do you realize that a family is more important than this country right now?

it might as well be Don Corleone running the United States for all of the integrity and honesty being displayed by the executive and congressional branches of the government....

criminals in charge and criminals cheering them on....

what a larf.


Posted by: what's more important | July 3, 2006 02:30 PM

everyone just sitting around watching a redneck riding through town, getting drunk shooting the town up, raping and killing people

and you want to talk about where you'll be eating in Paolo's of Georgetowne tonight?

gee I feel swell about America! and the people running it.


Posted by: so what's goin on Andrew | July 3, 2006 03:02 PM

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