Jewish World Review Feb. 15, 2011 / 11 Adar I, 5771
In Defense of Custom
By Paul Greenberg
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Civility and the need for it is much in the news these days, often enough in a political context, and even more often when pundits and pols are accusing each other of lacking it.
Civility, like so many other virtues, tends to be more preached than practiced. And to judge by much contemporary commentary, it is a practice most needed by others.
Even so, such lectures may have a wholesome effect. Note the president's State of the Union yawner some weeks ago. This year he didn't pause to ream out the various members of the
Their offense: daring to respect the right to free speech of even those most despised of creatures in American political rhetoric: corporations, political action committees and labor unions. There was no such dramatic spectacle this year. Its absence was a great improvement. Boredom can be a step up for this president.
Only six justices showed up for this year's address from the throne and, all too often, partisan circus. In recent decades the congresspersons have taken to jumping up and down like jacks-in-the-box when a president cues them. This year three of the black-robed brethren summoned sufficient self-respect to absent themselves from this Roman spectacle.
Instead of just sitting there while being skewered, the Hon.
Brother Alito would have done better to remain expressionless while walking out. For in America no gentleman need stand for that kind of thing -- not from anyone, whether servant or public servant, porter or president of
But this year, while the president prated on, Brother Alito was spending a week in
The second judicial, and judicious, no-show was
Naturally enough, the Hon. (and honorable)
Much like children, justices of the
In a system characterized by the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary, it's a mystery why any of the justices should feel it necessary to attend these imperial galas. Unfortunately, six of the justices lent themselves to the spectacle this year, dutifully showing up for any abuse the president might care to hand out.
Whether they serve only as ornaments on such occasions or punching bags, too, justices of the
Granted, even presidents have a right to free speech, and even a right to abuse it in a free country. But why should the
Next year nothing might reflect so well on the justices and their self-respect, or just respect for their court, as having the president and press look around for their august presence … and there they aren't. No more whipping boys. They have a higher role to play in this Republic.
Unfortunately, two-thirds of the court still lends its presence to this show:
The presence of the chief justice on this occasion was particularly disappointing. Since at one point he seemed to understand why the court shouldn't be attending these public humiliations. To quote from an appearance he made last March:
"To the extent the State of the Union has degenerated into a political pep rally, I'm not sure why we're there. ... (T)here is the issue of the setting, the circumstances and the decorum. The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the
But not troubling enough for Chief
What ever happened to the unspoken eloquence of the simple, silent snub? It seems to have gone the way of hand-written thank-you notes and the custom -- indeed, autonomous reflex -- that moves a gentleman to stand in the presence of a lady. Instead, we get boors who wear their ball caps indoors and presidents who decide to embarrass
It should be an unwritten rule: Justices of the
Oh, for the long years when the chief magistrate of the Republic submitted his annual report on the State of the Union in a written message to be read by a clerk to a drowsy
That kind of restraint was abandoned by
In the end, custom may determine law, and prove far more enduring. Let it become the custom of the land to respect the independence of the judiciary, not assail it. When it comes to having members of the
JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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