Supreme Umpires? Inside Baseball and the Bench

26 05 2009

Sonia Sotomayor: the Judge Who Saved Baseball

Anybody keeping score of which party controls the first few innings of the confirmation debate should make note of how many times “baseball” gets repeated in the political chatter over the next 48 hours.

When a new President mentions baseball twice in the first few minutes of his first Supreme Court nominee event, it is not a coincidence. To make sure his first nominee makes it through a potentially ugly confirmation process, President Obama is wrapping the debate in one of the most popular symbols of American life: baseball.

Remember the last SCOTUS confirmation process, when now-Chief Justice John Roberts said being a judge was like being a baseball ump, applying the rules and calling each ball or strike fairly for every team and individual, without personal favoritism or animus?

But “umpires do not encounter cases where rules do not previously exist. They certainly do not get to determine what they mean or whether that meaning changes over time with societal developments and scientific advancements. . .”


Roberts’s hard-edged performance at oral argument offers more than just a rhetorical contrast to the rendering of himself that he presented at his confirmation hearing.

“Judges are like umpires,” Roberts said at the time. “Umpires don’t make the rules. They apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire.” His jurisprudence as Chief Justice, Roberts said, would be characterized by “modesty and humility.”

After four years on the Court, however, Roberts’s record is not that of a humble moderate but, rather, that of a doctrinaire conservative. The kind of humility that Roberts favors reflects a view that the Court should almost always defer to the existing power relationships in society.

In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff.. .

As a lawyer and now as Chief Justice, Roberts has always . . . suggested that most state and local activities were off limits to challenge from taxpayers.

. . .As usual with Roberts’s jurisprudence, the citizen plaintiffs were out of luck.



8 responses

27 05 2009

“In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff.. .”

Just, WOW! I’m so glad he’s looking at the merits of each individual case, and not ruling according to a singular political ideology.

27 05 2009
Nance Confer

Who ever thought he was a “humble moderate?”

And don’t we all love the out-of-context use of Sotomayor’s comments about judges of different backgrounds? The fact that it was made in the context of a discussion of race/gender discrimination cases is conveniently left out of almost every quote. Not that having a mixture of viewpoints and experiences on the bench is a bad thing in its own right or that it would only be helpful in discrimination cases.


27 05 2009

And it’s not just his political ideology that holds Supreme power.

“. . .a view that the Court should almost always defer to the existing power relationships in society. ”

Well, yeah! White male IS the existing power relationship in society, back to the Founders. And on the current Court (Justice Thomas apparently buys into it for his own survival, like a Stockholm Syndrome hostage. The lesson he took from his own “diversity” experiences as a black man was to throw in with that existing power relationship. If you can’t beat em join em.)

So isn’t it all very chummy and smooth-functioning and all the white males in power see no good that can come from shaking that up!

On top of which, it’s even worse than white male dominance. America now somehow has skewed the court majority to perfectly reflect the Chief Justice’s personal conservative politics AND his personal Catholicism (both also white male as power relationships — nothing but white males in the papacy line, right?) How much more entrenched in the existing power structure and capable of working his own will on the entire nation, could one man possibly be??

Yet white male Catholic conservative Pat Buchanan went on and on yesterday, about how judicial decisions reflected NONE of this so it was fine, no women or minorities needed for SCOTUS to just dispassionately follow the rule of law — judges needing no judgment?!

Moral musical chairs again. Next time the white male mindset pronounces their singular power oh so fair and balanced, try it. Tell them if they claim diversity of thinking and feeling and life experience and belief makes no difference, that’s great! Then they’ll have no problem with us disbanding the current court and reconstituting it with eight racially minority women, six of whom are free-thinking non-believers. One man is okay as a token, and one of the women can be white if she’s liberal and acts black. But not a single Catholic — the believer has to stay Jewish.

No problem though, right? It shouldn’t make any difference?

27 05 2009

So I can understand the religious right politics for those who sincerely value some biblically framed social agenda so vital to them that it blinds them to the tyranny of governance a la Roberts. What I can’t figure out is why fair-minded conservative civil libertarians, especially women and minorities including homeschool families (and there are many) continue to go along.

Why don’t they rise up against embedded status quo powerbroker white male dominionists like Roberts, instead of resisting a transformational president who is on their side, working wisely to break that white male power structure stranglehold of government?

27 05 2009

Good editorial!

. . .Supposedly, members of the U.S. Supreme Court are the very models of impartiality – at least, that’s what we were taught in civics class. But the process that gets them there is among the most political exercises that we have in this country. It’s a (mercifully shorter) version of an election campaign – a collection of anonymous attacks, inane charges, demagoguery bordering on racism and that perennial standby, hypocrisy.

As Barack Obama proved in his presidential campaign, he can play that game and win. That doesn’t excuse the downright craziness of the process, one that has become so extreme that this time, potential nominees were attacked before one was even named.

Just as the recent presidential campaign seemed to turn on the question of flag pins and birth certificates, an early attack against the then-unknown nominee built entirely on Obama’s use of the word “empathy” to describe a quality he was looking for in a justice.

Empathy? What could that mean but that Obama intended to choose a woman who followed her “feelings” (presumably like all emotional females) instead of the law as written?

Sociopaths excepted, everyone has empathy: We’re sure, for example, that Chief Justice John Roberts is highly empathetic to the officers of corporations charged with discrimination or pollution. Just read his opinions.

29 05 2009
14 07 2009

Sunday July 12 NYT Week in Review:

The Deciders: Umpires v. Judges
Well worth a read.
(Hint as to one reason why: the umpires say they don’t care for the comparison!)

2 06 2010

Judges apparently weren’t meant to buy this comparison either! Interesting column as the subsequent summer of SCOTUS baseball warms up:
Bench the Judge-Umpire Analogy

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