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Jewish World Review
May 7, 2009
/ 13 Iyar 5769
The Libs Are Snickering
Is it possible that Justice David H. Souter has sensed
what I have sensed in reading the liberals' dutiful adieus to him, their
judicial Benedict Arnold? They all are snickering behind their hands.
Sure, he pleased them enormously with his 19 years of tergiversations
against conservative jurisprudence, after being President George H.W.
Bush's "conservative" Supreme Court nominee. But through all Souter's
years here in Washington, he revealed himself to be a stupendously
self-absorbed oddball and not much else. He fell far short of the
liberals' conception of a progressive Supreme Court dissenter, to wit: a
charismatic, outspoken, slightly outre intellectual on the model of
William O. Douglas.
Souter has been, as The Washington Post puts it, notable for his "quirky
independence in spurning the right." The operative word here is
"quirky." It is not meant as a compliment. Our liberals admire
eccentricity but not the eccentricity of a misanthropic loner. Thus, in
every supposedly friendly retrospective that I have read of him since he
informed the Democratic president that he, a Republican's Supreme Court
nominee, is retiring, the liberals have stressed his weirdness: the
misfit, the loner, the guy whose luncheon consists of yogurt and an
apple, which he eats "core and all." That was The New York Times
speaking. On the front page of its "Week in Review" section, the
newspaper ran a huge picture of him from years ago, in which he is
wearing a silly plaid suit, the collar of his shirt vaguely reminiscent
of Calvin Coolidge, his face expressionless but his eyes large and
glistening, like the caricatures one used to see of girls with huge
Bambi-like eyes. Another Times picture shows him in a coat and tie
hastening past his ramshackle, unpainted, wooden farmhouse, situated at
the end of an unmarked dirt road in rural New Hampshire. Some locals
have thought it was abandoned.
It is a farmhouse his parents and grandparents inhabited and bequeathed
to him, an only child, a bachelor, the Supreme Court's "solitary soul,"
as the Post subtly joshes. At every opportunity, the liberals write in
their bon voyage reminiscences, Souter would flee Washington and drive
his Volkswagen sedan to this hick hideout. He eschews airplanes, public
appearances, and society in general. Now he is vacating his rented
Southwest Washington apartment. He will not spend much time packing
because, we are told by the amused liberals, he never unpacked when he
drove down from New Hampshire in 1990. He just kept his effects in
boxes. So now back into those boxes, he will dump his clunky shoes and
his ratty old out-at-the-elbows sweaters before taking his last solitary
ride back to the woods. There he likes to hike alone at night with a
flashlight. I did not make this up. These are the details that the
liberals have been relating as they recapitulate his career as a
Republican-turned-progressive. As I say, they are snickering.
They have very little to say about Souter's work on the court other than
that he sided routinely with the liberal minority. I can understand
their reticence. After conferring with scholars who follow the court, I
can report that they recall not one opinion of his that was memorable
for anything other than smugness. As one told me, Justice Stephen
Breyer's dissents have been "thought-provoking," Justice John Paul
Stevens' "intelligent." Souter, in his dissents, has been simply a
liberal tag-along. There is something about him that is not quite adult.
He asks questions persistently, the liberals say with a wink. Well, so
does a lost child.
It is said that Justice Souter is a "ferocious reader." (That from The
Washington Post, perhaps again in jest. There is nothing ferocious about
this milksop.) Supposedly, he reads a great deal of history, but his
rare public remarks give little evidence of it. In one of his
occasionally remarked-upon dissents, he seems to be oblivious of
history. Two years back, he sided with the liberal minority in
expressing the fear that Louisville, Ky., would slide back into
segregation, perhaps even Jim Crow, without citywide racial quotas in
its schools. If history demonstrates anything, it is that America is
well beyond racial bigotry from government, whether local, state or
Souter's bland years on the court should remind us how important it is
for our leaders to have experience. President Bush and his advisers
might have thought it was clever of them to nominate a judge with almost
no paper trail. After serving on the New Hampshire Supreme Court for
seven years, Souter served just two months on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals before his nomination. But for almost two decades, it has
been clear that he is out of his depth. The troubling thought is that
the president who is about to nominate Souter's replacement is out of
his depth, too.
I began this column with a question. Does the departing justice realize
that the liberals, whom he benefited, are snickering? The answer is no.
As with much else, he is oblivious.
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