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Jewish World Review
Jan. 19, 2006
/ 19 Teves, 5766
Musings, random and otherwise
"This has turned into a political campaign. The whole process has become so politicized that I think the American people walk
away more confused about the way these people stand." Thus spake Senator Edward Kennedy over the weekend, lamenting his
party's inability to derail the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel Alito.
Well, it is certainly true that judicial nominations have become intensely politicized. It is true that partisan operatives do their
best to spin the public image of presidential nominees. And it is true that all the spinning can leave Americans with an inaccurate
picture of the person chosen to sit on the court.
But that Kennedy of all people should complain about this is rich. For if anyone is to blame for the crude political distortions of
the nomination process it is Kennedy, who in 1987 smeared Judge Robert Bork with a grotesque batch of lies that he stood for
an America in which "blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters; rogue police would break down citizens' doors in midnight
raids, [and] writers and authors could be censored at the whim of government."
The attack was as successful as it was outrageous. Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court was derailed so effectively that
"bork" became a verb meaning to ruthlessly savage a nominee's record in order to defeat his confirmation. And now Kennedy
complains that judicial nominations are too politicized? If chutzpah were an Olympic event, he would walk away with the gold.
The Bush administration is strongly criticized, and not only by Democrats, for the way it pushes the envelope in claiming
presidential power. On issues ranging from "signing statements" interpretations issued by the president of bills he signs into law
to the treatment of enemy combatants, the administration is regularly accused of unconstitutional assertions of power.
But I see no evidence that President Bush would flout a Supreme Court ruling striking down as unconstitutional an "executive"
power he had claimed and isn't that the key test? The White House used to argue, for example, that the president's authority as
commander-in-chief empowers the military to hold an enemy combatant indefinitely, without charges or legal counsel even if
the prisoner is a US citizen. But in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, which involved a US-born but Saudi-raised militant seized while allegedly
fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Supreme Court said no. Under the 14th Amendment, it held, a US citizen held as an
enemy combatant was entitled to "a meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for that detention before a neutral
decisionmaker." That was the end of it as soon as the court spoke, the government dropped its bid to keep Yasser Hamdi
The government would likewise back down if the court ruled in some future case that, for example, the FBI could not do
something it claimed the right to do under the Patriot Act. Or that presidential "signing statements" give the executive no leeway
to ignore a law. Yes, the Bush administration is aggressive in its claims of authority. But when the Supreme Court judges those
claims, the administration complies. In a nation of laws, not of men, that is just what we should expect.
Part of the assignment for my son's third-grade class was to "discuss with your parents the importance of Martin Luther King
Jr.'s work," so on Sunday we went through parts of King's 1963 "I Have A Dream" speech together, talking about particular
passages as I pointed them out. I explained why King began with a reference to the Emancipation Proclamation, and what he
meant in saying that his "dream was deeply rooted in the American dream" and that "the sons of former slaves and the sons of
former slave owners" should be able "to sit down together at the table of brotherhood."
I especially wanted him to appreciate King's dream of colorblindness the hope that his children would grow up in a nation
"where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." We agreed that it isn't whether
people are black or white that matters, but whether they are good or bad.
Apparently that is a lesson the mayor of New Orleans has yet to learn. Ray Nagin could have marked Martin Luther King Day
by recalling the colorblind outpouring of generosity that followed Katrina's destruction, when Americans opened their hearts to the
victims without ever asking or caring about the race of the people they were helping. Instead, he issued a blatant racial appeal,
exhorting blacks to again make New Orleans "chocolate" by outnumbering whites. "This city will be a majority African-American
city," Nagin vowed. "It's the way G-d wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way."
So much for the table of brotherhood. So much for the content of their character. Thirty-eight years after King was shot, and
we still have politicians who put skin color first. Keep dreaming, Reverend King. Keep dreaming.
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