John Roberts’ Balls and Strikes

John RobertsBalls and Strikes. That’s what John Roberts said about being a judge. During his confirmation hearing, he said, “I will remember that it’s my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.” At the time, I was appalled. Never in my life had I ever heard someone say such a nakedly dishonest thing during a confirmation hearing. It was pure rhetoric of the conservative variety. What he meant was, “I’m not like those liberal activist judges, I just apply the law.” The only thing that could be worse than Roberts lying about this is if he is so delusional as to actually believe it.

It’s been a bad couple of weeks. And this week’s Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon vs FEC was the worst of it. You can read my thoughts on the case in, Supreme Court Strikes Blow for Oligarchy. It isn’t so much what it means on a practical level, because the truth is that our political system was already a mess. It’s owned by the wealthy. If you have any question, just look at what happened to Proposition 37 in 2012. But the truth is that the Supreme Court could have decided to make a stand for democracy, but the conservatives rushed to the conclusion that the best thing is for us to have an oligarchy.

What the Supreme Court is really doing is deciding between competing interests. This is what the court should be doing. And McCutcheon provided an amazingly clear choice. On the one side, there are several hundred extremely rich people who already have undemocratic levels of political power. On the other side, you have well over 300 million people who have an interest in not having their democracy manipulated. Five of the justices felt the interests of the few hundred were most important. Four of the justices felt the interests of the entire nation were most important.

I’m not saying that the interests of the majority always trump the interests of the minority. Not at all! That’s why we have a constitution and the rule of law. But this case seems pretty clear. It reminds me very much of Bush vs Gore where the conservatives on the court were so very concerned that the trust fund millionaire Bush would lose out on any possible rights. In this case, the court is very worried about the rights of an Alabama millionaire to grease the wheels of democracy. It would seem that the conservatives on the court are only really interested in individual rights when it comes to people who already have a hell of a lot more rights than most.

But the baseball analogy really bugs me. I’m always impressed with baseball umpires. Things happen fast and they very rarely blow a call. I’m sure if you had nine umpires behind home plate when a curve ball skimmed the edge of the plate, at least eight of them would agree on the call. The reason that the justices didn’t agree on the call in McCutcheon is that it is nothing at all like calling balls and strikes. And with the conservative majority on the court, just like with conservatives throughout the political system, it is all about ideology. I can live with that, but it is galling when they claim they are just objective arbiters of truth.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

5 thoughts on “John Roberts’ Balls and Strikes

  1. Roberts is the perfect example of how a guy slides through confirmation hearings based on pure appearances. He doesn’t look like an ideological maniac; therefore, why fight his nomination when Bush will eventually pick someone who could be worse? Now, we’ll be stuck with the psycho forever; conservative judges never die, nor fade away.

    I’ve just spent the last two hours utterly wasting time on a bit you may find interesting if you haven’t wasted time on it already; Harvard’s Implicit Association Tests —

    I kept trying to get a good liberal score, failed on almost all of ’em except Native Americans and disabilities.

    We should know by now that smiling Ozzie Nelson types like Roberts are the scariest MFers of all . . .

  2. @JMF – The terrible thing is that Roberts is fairly reasonable compared to the three pure ideologues. But in a sense, that’s worse. I’ve come to respect Thomas, because at least he actually follows through with what he believes. For example, he wanted to get rid of the individual limits, which I think is correct on the merits. If you think this is about money as free speech, there is no reason to find anything else. See my previous article on it.

    I’m going to take the test now. You know how I love these things!

  3. @JMF – Oh! I’ve taken some of the tests before. They are really unpleasant because they show just how little in control of our beliefs we are.

  4. Yeah we aren’t in control of these things. A nice observation in "Dog Whistle Politics" is that while being focused on difference may be hardwired into our brains, being focused on race-based difference isn’t. We can glom all over race, religion, sex, whatever, we’re pretty mutable when it comes to irrational perceptions.

    Which makes it possible, I think, to overcome those irrational perceptions . . .

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