Scary to the ninth power: our current Supreme Court

From that header above, you probably think I’m just getting hysterical, right?

No. Last week, Adam Liptak published a brilliant article in the NYT (he covers the Supreme Court for them) analyzing the 5-4 divide in the current court. His headline was: The Polarized Court – NYTimes.com. He began his piece:

WASHINGTON — When the Supreme Court issued its latest campaign finance decision last month, the justices lined up in a familiar way. The five appointed by Republican presidents voted for the Republican National Committee, which was a plaintiff. The four appointed by Democrats dissented.

That 5-to-4 split along partisan lines was by contemporary standards unremarkable. But by historical standards it was extraordinary. For the first time, the Supreme Court is closely divided along party lines.

The partisan polarization on the court reflects similarly deep divisions in Congress, the electorate and the elite circles in which the justices move.

The deep and often angry divisions among the justices are but a distilled version of the way American intellectuals — at think tanks and universities, in opinion journals and among the theorists and practitioners of law and politics — have separated into two groups with vanishingly little overlap or interaction. It is a recipe for dysfunction.

The perception that partisan politics has infected the court’s work may do lasting damage to its prestige and authority and to Americans’ faith in the rule of law.

I bolded that above sentence because, like many people, I’m past “may.”

I could have stopped reading right there but because I think so highly of Adam Liptak, I read the whole piece. And that’s how I saw some spare but inutterably terrifying paragraphs quoting Antonin Scalia. You know, the guy they keep calling a “brilliant legal mind,” that guy.

There are two assumptions any reasonably intelligent person would make about the SCOTUS justices. First, that they all keep up with current events, given that their deliberations and decisions which have such a resounding, lasting effect upon us all, cannot emerge out of some intellectual biosphere. If the Nine have been bidden to make a decision on, say, the Affordable Care Act, we assume they have picked up some real life  information about it, right? I mean, beyond the legal for-and-against arguments.

So one assumption is that the Supremes read a lot of news. Just out of curiosity, hey. And given that news itself does not get gathered in and reported upon from its own biosphere, it will never be perfectly sterilized. The best we can hope for − and get − is an effort at factual reporting, interspersed with a bit of lean, of opinion. So we can hope that whatever the political lean of a justice, she reads a variety of journals, magazines and newspapers. Just as I do.

The second assumption we make about the Supremes: if a justice subscribes to pornographic comic books, he has the common sense to keep them sealed in brown paper, along with his lips.

But no.

So here are the paragraphs from Liptak’s article that destroy both assumptions, and do massive “damage to its prestige and authority and to Americans’ faith in the rule of law”

Like the rest of the country, the justices increasingly rely on sources of information that reinforce their views.

“We just get The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times,” Justice Scalia told New York magazine in September. He canceled his subscription to The Washington Post, he said, because it was “slanted and often nasty” and “shrilly liberal.” He said he did not read The New York Times either.

“I get most of my news, probably, driving back and forth to work, on the radio,” he said. “Talk guys, usually.”

My bolding. For emphasis.

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