A consideration of Supreme Court justices

There has been talk of judges, pedigreed judges, those considered for a position as justice of the United States Supreme Court. These are folks with rarefied educations who have been doctrinally vetted post-grad. People who, when greeted with the salutation, “Hey, you, you with the unassailable record and impeccable credentials,” will turn slowly to answer distantly, “Yes?” I wonder if they take comfort in being recognized for what they are: “Apple-polishing resume’ jockeys.”

Today, before the Senate Judiciary Committee, you’ll be able to watch one run.

Out of the gate, know this: A person does not have to be super smart to be a Supreme Court justice. Super smart people tend to gravitate to professions like theoretical physics, medical research, or advanced mathematics — where absolutes control. Take, for example, young Andrew Tulgestke, who recently earned a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Stanford — that’s smart. Andrew hails from the village of Hawks.

Justice aspirants apply for jobs where right answers are based on prior right answers that can be replaced by new right answers they believe are the correct right answers — all of which are opinions. A deft intellect helps with the maneuvering but intellectual deftness can be found far distant from confined appellate court hallways — try places like Hawks.

Opinions will be better if those propounding them have lived somewhere other than a classroom, some judge’s chamber, or a government office. After all, it’s you and me who have to live with this stuff: granting to corporations an individual’s free speech rights and unlimited spending on political causes; allowing owners of businesses to cite personal religious beliefs to deprive their workers of reproductive health care; permitting Exxon to escape responsibility for billions in damages for the Exxon Valdez oil spill; and stopping a valid recount of Floridian’s votes allowing George W. Bush to win the presidency — I could go on.

What is needed? A good grasp of reality, a sound work ethic, law clerks to do the grunt work, a measure of decency, a dash of humility, and the fortitude and intellectual capacity to hold his or his own against eight other justices. Why all the talk of brilliance? To blind you to what really matters.

Consider O’Callahan.

O’Callahan was a bird dog — an English setter of whom my friend John’s father was mighty proud. This dog came with “papers” and had attended the finest obedience schools where he was vetted as consistently pointing in the right direction.

Came a field trial. The judge, on horseback, had started to move along the designated woodland trail when an old English setter — one exhibiting signs alternate breeding opportunities may have been honored by his forebears — moved ahead to range back and forth across that forest path. Old one-eyed Booger was intent on finding, pointing, and flushing that which was being hunted.

Booger looked up and down, left and right, under logs, in bushes, sniffed here and there keeping always a sharp lookout. He had a hunter’s sense old Booger did, little got by him and when it didn’t he pointed in its direction guided by facts, a realistic interpretation of the game’s rules, scent, common sense, experience, and his intellect.

O’Callaghan didn’t range. Instead, he assumed a position under the judge, more specifically, under the judge’s horse, imparting new meaning — but no new perspective — to the term “originalist”. In this favored position, O’Callaghan remained as that trio moved toward its predetermined destination. On occasion, he would angle out, glancing upward, affirming to those in attendance he was understudy to the judge — not the horse.

Booger found nourishment from natural sources along the forest trail.

O’Callahan had a variety of dog biscuits tossed his way by those seeking to ascertain his favorite flavors — his preferences not having been previously disclosed citing a marketing strategy. This was, after all, a commercially sponsored event.

I bailed before the trials’ completion as it was clear which dog should win the ribbon — no judge was needed. Still, I suspect the result came out the other way. John never did make mention other than to remark that during the awards presentation, old Booger had lifted a leg.

Doug Pugh’s Vignettes runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. He can be reached via email at pughda@gmail.com.