Sunday, July 10, 2005

Pushing me closer . . .

Among the many websites I haunt is National Review, especially the Corner. Among the writers whose work I occasionally find interesting is John Derbyshire. He is a gifted writer, and a man who seems to know a great deal about a wide variety of things.

Unfortunately, he is also a blatant homophobe, which makes his writings often difficult to take. He's also given to making bold proclamations typical of someone so certain of the rightness of his position as to be frightening; witness his endorsement of the reports of abuses at Abu Ghraib, and his insistence that it is realistic, much less desirable, to remove all illegal aliens from this country. So I often wonder whether I should even bother reading him any more.

Which leads me to his latest entry on the Corner, on the subject of the Supreme Court:

"When I first came to this country, I assumed that the nine justices of the Supreme Court were taken from the absolute cream of their profession, the very best legal and constitutional brains the U.S. had to offer. Then a kind legal friend, who had actually had some dealings with the Justices, took me aside and gently explained that they are much more often mediocrities from the bulge of the bell curve, chosen to give the least possible offense to the least number of loud factions, or because, never having had an original or interesting thought in their lives, they had never made anyone angry by forcing him into the unpleasant and painful business of thinking."

This is profoundly ridiculous. Nobody - even their fiercest ideological enemies - denies that Scalia, Breyer, and Stevens are men of first-rate intellect. Rehnquist, Kennedy, and Souter, if not at that level, are products of the finest schools this country has to offer, who had distinguished legal careers. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of the most prominent attorneys in the women's rights movement, who had resounding success in that area. Sandra Day O'Connor was, as has been said many times, third in her class at Stanford Law School, and succeeded at numerous levels of government before being nominated to the Court. And Clarence Thomas, despite being unfairly painted as Scalia's lackey, has provided original opinions on a variety of topics while on the court.

Further, this reflects a cartoonish view of how the real world works - the kind you'd expect from some beer-swilling guy in a wife-beater T-shirt who says "those damn politicians don't know a thing - Jimmy at the VFW and I could do better, don't you know!" Because all these issues are really simple, don't you know, and only a fool could disagree with him. Sadly, Mr. Derbyshire, for an obviously intelligent man, too frequently resorts to this kind of thinking.

All of which leads me to the conclusion that if this guy really thinks Supreme Court justices are mediocrities who rise to the top only by never offending anyone, and have never "had an original or interesting thought in their lives," perhaps there are more edifying parts of the Internet where I can find amusement and education.


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