Can the state of New York, by drawing political boundaries along religious lines, establish a municipal theocracy governed entirely by Satmar Hasidim? This is the constitutional question the Supreme Court is likely to avoid when it takes up the Kiryas Joel case on March 30. Instead, the justices will answer a related but less basic question: Can New York grant the Satmar village all the powers of a religiously segregated public school district and authorize it to educate handicapped Hasidic children at state expense? The missed opportunity is unfortunate.
Unless a Supreme Court nomination falls from the sky, federal judges are rarely evaluated by cool-eyed critics. And so my heart leapt the other day when Federal Express brought a 126-page report from the Chicago Council of Lawyers reviewing the performances of the fifteen judges on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. But the lawyers have an ax to grind. Their oddest conclusion is that Richard Posner and Frank Easterbrook, two of the most celebrated judges in the country, are in fact two of the least professional judges on the court.
Last week, with William Rehnquist's provisional consent, Shannon Faulkner became the first woman in 150 years to attend classes at The Citadel, a public military college in South Carolina. "This is just another case in a long series of cases over the last twenty years or so which have expanded opportunities for women and said they're entitled to an equal opportunity," Helen Neuborne of the now Legal Defense Fund told cnn.
Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech by Cass R. Sunstein (The Free Press, 300 pp., $22.95) For nearly a decade Cass Sunstein has presented himself as the benign face of free speech revisionism. In his academic writings, he has supported some restrictions on pornography and hate speech, and at the same time has avoided the rhetorical excesses of Catharine A. MacKinnon and the critical race theorists. He has endorsed some restrictions on the autonomy of broadcasters and newspaper owners, while questioning what he calls the more heavy-handed " command and control" solutions of the 1960s.
A few months ago, Garry Wills wrote an erudite piece in the New York Review of Books called "Jefferson the Aesthete." Far from the radical populist of historical myth, Wills argues, Jefferson was an aestheticized elitist of excessive refinement, who went on reckless buying sprees in Paris and cluttered his mountaintop chateau with Houdon busts, Sèvre table sculptures and a fauteuil from Marie Antoinette's own ébéniste.
Courtroom Three, on the second floor of the Denver City and County Building, is a neoclassical jewel, with its mustard walls and gray Vermont marble and polished oak backboard. It is a platonic ideal of a courtroom, which is perhaps why Viacom commandeered it in the mid-1980s to film several episodes of the new "Perry Mason." At the producers' behest, local architects installed a pair of ornate, but scarcely functional, beaux arts chandeliers; and their dim orange glow makes it hard for the judge to see the witnesses without squinting.
The lingering questions of the Thomas and Ginsburg hearings anxiously converged in a sexual harassment case before the Court this week. Can sexual banter in the workplace be punished if it offends women without affecting their job performance? And are men's and women's perspectives about sex so vastly different that women need special protection from the vulgarity of men?
On the first day of the new term, the Supreme Court revisited the question that undid Lani Guinier: How much racial gerrymandering does the Constitution permit, and the Voting Rights Act require? In her opaque majority opinion in Shaw v. Reno last June, Sandra Day O'Connor flirted with, and then retreated from, the argument that the Constitution always forbids states from carving out black and Hispanic electoral districts, even as a remedy for past discrimination.
The trial of Cornelius Singleton, who was executed in Alabama last November for killing a nun in a cemetery by smothering her with rocks, was hardly a model of due process. After begging to be taken off the case, the court-appointed lawyer refused to meet with his client, failed to object when the prosecutor struck all blacks from the jury pool and neglected to tell the jury that Singleton was mentally retarded. He then forged Singleton's name on a petition for habeas corpus; he was later disbarred.
A few days alter the president nominated her to the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg received a fax from a member of the Rotary Club in Bernardsville, New Jersey.