Friday, 14 May 2010

the supremes

We don't have anything like the insanely powerful, nine-strong, on-it-for-life US Supreme Court. Elena Kagan is the current Democratic nominee. Two things:

1. If she is confirmed, the Supreme Court will contain no Protestants. Six Catholics and three Jews. No atheists, obviously, but no Protestants? I don't know what it means, exactly, though I have some ideas, but it's interesting.

2. One big criticism - Republican standard- of Kagan is that as a New Yorker, she doesn't represent the heartland. As 538 points out, not uniquely but neatly, the heartland often looks very like a shorthand for 'the red states'*:
can anyone who grew up on the sidewalks of New York really understand an American "heartland" characterized by small towns and rural areas? Maybe not, but neither can the 80% of Americans who live in metropolitan areas. And this gets to the mythical nature of "the heartland," many of whose residents have more in common with middle-class New Yorkers than with the sturdy peasant stock of yore. In terms of this meme, it's revealing that Sarah Palin, who hails from Alaska, one of the two least typical American states (the other being Hawai'i) is reflexively considered a classic representative of "the heartland" and of "real Americans." That shows how artificial the construction really is.


* Bonus fact. 'Red' states being Republican and 'Blue' states being Democrat only solidified, colourwise, in television coverage of the 2000 election. It is not a colour system recognised officially by the parties themselves.

4 comments:

Matthew said...

We do have something a bit like it: the insanely powerful, twelve-strong, on-it-for-life (er, until you retire) UK Supreme Court: http://www.supremecourt.gov.uk.

Robert Hudson said...

Let's see. We really don't know how influential or activist our one's going to be yet. It's not a major piece of the political landscape. Our legal system is much more influenced by Europe than America's is by ... er ... anyone's. America's is a historically vital component of the political system, with political considerations uppermost and clear political agendas involved in a public appointment process.

Not to say our judiciary is uninfluential, just that it is a very different kettle of fish and I tend towards waiting to see what our Supremes turn out to be before saying they're like the American ones. Of course, this kind of muddy thinking could leave them incredibly powerful without anyone having thought enough about them, I get that.

Is that a cop out?

Natalie said...

Having grown up in a small town and then moved away for college, I'll never understand why some people act like most of the US is "small town America". The rural/small town US is more like Funny Farm than a Norman Rockwell painting, anyway.

Also, I didn't know that about no Protestants on the Supreme Court. That's an interesting fact.

Jennifer Walter said...

For me the religious makeup of the Supreme Court is undeniably interesting, made more so because people lose their minds when it's brought up. Just read any of Scalia's replies to Geoffrey Stone's Huffington Post articles.

When Sotomayor was nominated there was a small camp that seemed to think that some sort of Supreme Court Catholic gang would form. But this would require Sotomayor and Scalia to agree with each other which would surprise me more than finding out they are secret lovers...although their affair would put a new spin on the phrase “court packing.”