OFF THE GRID

Supreme Court: Does It Matter Who’s the Next Justice?

Apr 12, 10 | 7:47 AM   byMichael Wolff
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There are two kinds of Americans: those who care fervently about the Supreme Court and those who care, mostly, not a whit at all about it. The first is a small minority, disproportionately represented in the media; the second is pretty much everyone else.

The first joins both the right and left in their abiding obsession with American government and with each other and continues to reflect, beyond any reasonable time frame, the passions of the 1960s. The second group is not only thoroughly post-sixties (a good many of this group were born a full generation after the sixties), but, in a sense, post-politics.

Anyway, once again, and for most people inexplicably (and with a profound shrug), the Supreme Court, and what relative non-entity gets a job on it, will obsess the first group—and the media people in it—during the many months it will take to replace Justice Stevens.

The first group ought to consider the feelings of the second group.

Among those feelings is that any discussion about the Supreme Court is a discussion about lawyers. And no one who is not a lawyer, or scarily litigious, is interested in hearing about lawyers. Lawyers are dull, obtuse, unromantic, emotionally attenuated—and almost everyone who has had an experience with a lawyer understands that he or she was diminished rather than advanced by it. (We would probably not think so badly of politicians if they weren’t all lawyers.)

Once, it should be noted—and this goes back to the stuck-in-the-sixties bias of the first group—lawyers were quite the thing. They were the vanguard of both those defending the establishment and those fighting it. History was made by lawyers—especially those on the Supreme Court or those arguing before it.

But this has not been true in several generations. This is partly because the Court became a promotion for small-time lawyers and judges, rather than, as it had been in the past, a consolation prize for men who aspired to world prominence and who continued to want to leave their mark. It is not that the Court has no significance, but it certainly has no more significance than, say, a regulatory agency. Supreme Court justices are bureaucrats rather than players. Beyond, perhaps, Bush v. Gore, nobody who isn’t a lawyer, journalist, or obsessive could name a Supreme Court decision of the past 20 years.

So how come the people of first group still think everybody should care as much as they do about the tiresome subject of the Court? It probably involves demographics: Many in this group are old and remember the 1960s (with wrath or fondness). And partly because many are right wingers pursuing their peculiar, fetishistic issues, to which the court still speaks—and where you find the right wing, you find the left. And partly because the media has never found a language other than civics (okay, and celebrities) with which to talk about power and influence in America.

The news about the Supreme Court, which nobody has reported, is that it doesn’t really merit all that much attention anymore. So don’t feel guilty if the confirmation battle for the new justice bores you to death.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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OFF THE GRID is about why the news is the news. Here are the real motivations of both media and newsmakers. Here's the backstory. This is a look at the inner workings of desperate media, the inner life of the publicity crazed, and the true meaning of the news of the day.

 

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