Supreme Court

For Whom the Bell Tolls
March 01, 1993

Derrick Bell has a flair for the dramatic exit. The one that made him famous was his highly publicized decision in 1990 to leave his tenured position at Harvard Law School, where he had been the first black scholar ever hired. Bell quit after Harvard refused to offer tenure to a black woman he supported. But Bell had done the same thing at the University of Oregon six years earlier. And he had made the same threat at Harvard ten years before that. And back in 1959 he had quit the first job he ever held, at the Justice Department, over a matter of principle.

Danny and Zoe
February 01, 1993

The drama that culminated in Zoe Baird's selection as attorney general was demeaning to all the players. First, Bill Clinton made it clear that only women need apply. Then Judge Patricia Wald, who deserved to be at the top of a coed list, took herself out of the running. Brooksley Born, a Washington lawyer-activist, lost the job by leaving Clinton cold in her interview--after boasting to friends that she had clinched the nomination.

Where Politics Ends
August 03, 1992

The fine line between "law" and "politics."

The Softness of Reason
July 13, 1992

In The Clouds, Aristophanes' great comedy about Socrates, a young man eager for the new learning goes to the Think-Academy run by that strange and notorious figure. A debate is staged for him, contrasting the merits of traditional education with those of the new discipline of argument. The spokesman for the old education is a he-man. He favors a tough military regimen, including lots of gymnastics and not much questioning.

Douglass to Thomas
September 30, 1991

The Roots of Black Conservatism, From Frederick Douglass to Clarence Thomas

The Minority Minority
September 30, 1991

Last July Clarence Thomas attended a private dinner in Washington with a handful of NAACP officials. This was shortly after he’d been nominated to the Supreme Court, and Thomas hoped to soften the antipathy of the black civil rights establishment toward him. Not a chance. He was soon trashed in public statements as a snake, a black copy of David Duke, “Bork in blackface,” and putty in the hands of his conservative white wife. Gary Franks, the first black Republican elected to the House of Representatives since 1932, got better treatment, but not much.

The Spirit Of The Laws
March 11, 1991

How should the courts interpret the Constitution?

Regrets Only
April 30, 1990

Although I have no special desire to be governor of Texas, and would actively prefer not to become head of the Office of Thrift Supervision (the poor soul charged with cleaning up the savings and loan mess), the traumas of aspirants to these posts in recent days compel me to make the following statement. It has been cleared with political consultants of both parties. Like many members of my generation—Senator Al Gore and Representative Newt Gingrich, to name but two—I too have experimented with marijuana in the distant past. It was in a party situation during my freshman year in college.

Roboflop
October 31, 1988

Despite his pee-pants performance in the Omaha debate against Lloyd Bentsen, it looks as if Dan Quayle, 41, will be president one of these days. Consider the politico-actuarial probabilities. Assuming the Republican lead endures, the junior senator from Indiana will be elected vice president. This alone will give him an even chance of becoming president. Three out of the last five presidents were vice president first. Seven out of the last ten vice presidents have ended up heading a national ticket, and four (five if you presumptively count George Bush) got all the way to the Oval Office.

Courting Rituals
February 01, 1988

Even in the context of the Supreme Court tussles that have provided political entertainment since at least the 1930s, the 1987 saga of Robert Bork, Douglas Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy broke new ground. What made the play rougher this time was the heightened consciousness of the power stakes, a more aggressive deployment of the interest groups, and a great sophistication in media use. If the overworked term “watershed” still conveys some meaning, it applies here to the future direction of confirmation politics.

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