"Judicial activism" (or, alternatively, "legislating from the bench") is defined -- no matter what your political beliefs -- as "judges not ruling the way I want them to." It's an inherently partisan statement to make, even if it doesn't sound like it. If you are a Republican, using the term means courts ruling for things you don't like. Same for Democrats. The irony is that while the charge is leveled in order to prove some sort of bias or prejudice in a judicial candidate or judge, the only thing it usually winds up proving is the bias of the accuser -- and not the accused. Because it almost always boils down to the accuser wanting the judge or justice in question to rule in a certain partisan way -- before even hearing the facts of any particular case.
Archive of Articles for May, 2009
Debates about national security always fascinate me, because almost without exception nobody bothers to define the term itself. This, to me, is a key feature of any debate about national security versus the people's right to know what their government is doing in their name -- such as the one currently raging over whether to publicly release thousands of photographs of detainee abuse. But the definition of "national security" is always conspicuous in its absence in the debate. Which allows the government to get away with using two definitions of the term interchangeably, when only one should be legally allowed.
It seems these days, Republicans just can't attempt to do anything right without landing themselves in hot water as a result. As a result, they now face a no-win situation politically and racially. The forces of moderation (drastically diminished in the party though they may be) are up against the hardline conservatives. Add racial politics to this mix, and it's easy to see how Republicans have wound up between a rock and a hard place. And although it may sound like it, I'm not talking about Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court.
Which, in the roundest of possible ways, brings us to President Obama's first nominee for the Supreme Court. But before we actually get there, we must detour 400 years to William Shakespeare, for the original quote. Macbeth, just after hearing his wife is dead (and just before his world's foundations crumble by being told that Birnam wood was indeed coming to Dunsinane), utters the following:
On a lonely hill outside the small town of Cobh, Ireland, is a mass grave marked by three somber headstones. As mass graves go, it's a fairly small one; holding not tens of thousands or even thousands, but merely a few hundred bodies. But the relative size of the grave on the scale of human misery is beside the point -- because while few, their deaths had monumental consequences for America. The dead were civilians, not soldiers (more on them in a minute). But their deaths deserve memorializing today just as much as those we remember who wore the uniform of our country. Because this is the final resting place of the people onboard the Lusitania.
President Obama and the congressional Democrats just had their first spat. While others have more-than-adequately delved into the fracas of Obama's national security speech and Harry Reid stripping out funding to close Guantanamo, what I was struck by this week was how Obama is better defining his character as president. This is going to be important later this year, when energy plans and health care reform legislation become protracted fights in Congress.
While President Obama's speech on national security today is getting most of the attention, another important foreign policy issue awaits, which Obama has so far been untested on as president. On the campaign trail, Obama's statements on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) were inconsistent, to say the least. He spoke against it in battleground states like Ohio, but he also reportedly sent an aide to reassure the Canadians that when Obama said he would "renegotiate NAFTA," he really didn't mean it. So it's always been somewhat of an open question what Obama would do on free trade issues as president. We may be about to find out.
Some writers love words and language more than others. At one end of this continuum are writers who use language much the way a carpenter uses tools, and don't think about the tools much (would a carpenter say he "loves" his hammer or saw?). At the other end of the scale are writers such as Geoffrey Nunberg, whose love of language is a core part of not just their writing, but their whole being. For instance, his impressive "day job" is researching linguistics at Berkeley's School of Information, meaning that even when he isn't writing, he is still thinking about language.
When I wrote yesterday's column ("What, Exactly, Was Pelosi Supposed To Do?") I expected a certain amount of debate, but I had no idea what direction it would take (which is the whole fun of the blogosphere). To be perfectly honest, I thought some Pelosi defenders would take me to task for being too hard on her.
Listening to the news over the past week, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that Nancy Pelosi was personally responsible for torturing prisoners. Because that's how the storyline seemed, if you had just beamed in from Mars and didn't know anything else about the debate on prisoner interrogation. The problem is, we have not just arrived on this planet, and Nancy Pelosi will ultimately wind up in the history books with a footnote (if that) in the description of what took place under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. But her critics in the past few days have remarkably failed to answer a very basic question (not that the media is really asking, but maybe they'll get around to it) -- what, exactly, was Nancy Pelosi supposed to do?