Blawgletter really likes Russell Baker, a writer who for decades wrote a very funny "Observer" column for The New York Times. One column that we like to mention dealt with how bitter and ugly people get about abortion rights. Baker said he didn't like the subject and didn't relish questions asking his views on it. "My current position is a profound wish it would go away", he wrote.
Baker's weekly work stood out for us partly because he often ended with a twist. He'd talk about something for 980 of his 1,000 or so words, but all of a sudden he'd dart into something else. You'd feel smart because you got what he meant. You knew he enjoyed tickling you, and you liked him for that.
Today, Linda Greenhouse — who covered the U.S. Supreme Court for almost as many years (1978-2007) as Baker wrote his column (1962-98) – penned "Justices on the Job". The piece does a sort of Bakerian zig-zag, starting with comments (by Chief Justice John Roberts) about the effect on the Court, in general, of having almost nothing but ex-court of appeals judges as justices but ending with a point that singles out one of the Chief's colleagues as proof that a narrow life experience can breed clueless rulings.
Chief Justice Roberts, Greenhouse relates, told a group of judges and lawyers, within days after the 2012-13 Term ended in June, that the background of the justices as judges tended to make them less "political". She does not buy that idea, finding "something disingenuous in it." She regards the Roberts Court as very political, thank you very much.
Having zigged with the topic in general, Greenhouse zags to a specific for-instance — that of Sam Alito, the colleague who replaced Sandra Day O'Connor in 2006. The zag targets Justice Alito's pro-employer rulings in sex discrimination cases. Greenhouse concludes, with no hint of Bakerian mirth:
As far as I can tell from his résumé, Samuel Alito, since his graduation from law school, has never cashed a paycheck that wasn’t issued by the federal government. He has been a law clerk, a lawyer in the Justice Department, a federal prosecutor, and an appeals court judge. In federal employment, salaries are set by law and lines of authority are clear to all. But in the private sector, where I’ve spent my career, salaries are often close to state secrets and it can be the least powerful of many bosses who can make an employee’s daily life the most miserable.
Does Justice Alito understand this? Can he? It’s not really that complicated. So maybe this is the real mismatch: the wrong man for the job.
Justice Alito comes in for such heat, we susepect, partly because Greenhouse adores Justice O'Connor and winces when Alito makes rulings that she thinks O'Connor would have never have agreed with.
Our own bias, as a lawyer who sees trial work as a high calling, makes us sorry that only one of the Court members spent any significant amount of time trying cases or serving on a district court bench. How can you umpire a game you haven't played and therefore don't really understand?
Taking a page from Baker, we wish that problem would go away.