Before 2013 begins, catch up on the best of 2012. From now until the New Year, we will be re-posting some of The New Republic’s most thought-provoking pieces of the year.
This past weekend, Rick Santorum briefly elevated his college years to a focal point of his campaign. “I went through it at Penn State,” he said Sunday. “You talk to most kids who go to college who are conservatives, and you are singled out, you are ridiculed.” He added that he “went through a process where I was docked for my conservative views.” As it turned out, I had spent much of the past week talking to people from Santorum’s past, including several of his college friends and professors.
It is often said that the age of the Washington hostess is dead. Gone are the days, we are told, of Katharine Graham and Pamela Harriman, who assembled Washington power players around tables where deals were struck and alliances forged. But that may not be entirely true. The name Rima Al-Sabah doesn’t ring many bells to people outside the Beltway. Inside, it rings a lot. Al-Sabah is the wife of the Kuwaiti ambassador, Salem Al-Sabah. Since the couple arrived in Washington in 2001, she has become known as the issuer of invitations one doesn’t decline.
The Supreme Court term that ended this week would have looked very different if Justice Sandra Day O’Connor were still on the bench. Twenty percent of the cases were decided by a 5-4 vote, and, in many of those cases, Justice O’Connor would have voted to swing the result the other way. In two interviews this week at the Aspen Ideas Festival, O’Connor, a former Arizona state legislator, suggested to me that she disagreed with the 5-4 decision striking down Arizona’s public campaign financing system. She worried that it might call other public financing schemes into question.
The past few months have seen plenty of commentary about Elena Kagan’s status as one of only a few women ever nominated to the Supreme Court. But much of this commentary has rung hollow, consisting of platitudes about how she is a “trailblazer.” Practically no one has focused on what is perhaps a far more important aspect of her gender: Elena Kagan might very well be the first female nominee to the Supreme Court who does not define her gender as salient to her public life. Kagan has been deemed a female pioneer: the first woman to lead Harvard Law School and to serve as solicitor general.
Tom Goldstein is a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, and lecturer at Stanford and Harvard Law Schools. He is the founder of SCOTUSblog. A version of this piece was originally posted there on April 18, 2010. Supreme Court retirements inevitably produce much more coverage of process than substance. The press is dominated by political rather than legal reporters. Politics is also more familiar and therefore more accessible to the public than are court decisions. The irony is that this attention to process is not very meaningful—at least at this stage, when there is no nominee.
In the months leading up to the Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, it was hard not to feel a sense of dread. At other great moments of constitutional drama—the decision to reaffirm Roe in 1992 and to settle the presidential election of 2000—the justices had allowed an inflated sense of their own importance to distort their judgment and compromise their reasoning.
ON MONDAY, WHEN the Supreme Court heard arguments in Bush v. Gore, there was a sense in the courtroom that far more than the election was at stake. I ran into two of the most astute and fair-minded writers about the Court, who have spent years defending the institution against cynics who insist the justices are motivated by partisanship rather than reason. Both were visibly shaken by the Court's emergency stay of the manual recount in Florida; they felt naïve and betrayed by what appeared to be a naked act of political will.
It is January 5, 2001. The state of Florida has submitted two slates of electors to Congress, one for George W. Bush and one for Al Gore. To decide which to accept, Congress has appointed an electoral commission, composed of five senators, five representatives, and five Supreme Court justices. The commission is divided evenly along party lines, and the fate of the nation hangs on the mystical deliberations of the only undecided member, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Poor Justice O'Connor! For the past three years, she's struggled ineffectually to split the difference between four liberal Justices, who think that the Constitution doesn't prevent the states from drawing voting districts on the basis of race, and four conservative Justices, who think it does. But last week, in striking down majority black congressional districts in Texas and North Carolina, she found an ingenious solution to her dilemma.