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They Just Like Talking to Salesmen


Paul recently discussed Jonathan Turley, the “liberal” legal “expert” Republicans got from their book of Deadbeat magazine subscription leads to give bad faith misinformation about impeachment to the public. As part of a discussion of Turley’s performance as Trump’s Brand X Dershowitz, Elie Mystal reminds us of what is arguably an even more disgraceful episode:

The scholarly grift is so successful because very few people outside of legal academia feel like they have the educational chops to challenge these people, and very few people inside the academy see it as their job to take the grifters down. During the confirmation battle for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor—the first woman of color ever nominated to the Supreme Court—Turley argued that his thorough “review” of 30 Sotomayor opinions revealed that she lacked the “intellectual depth” of a good Supreme Court nominee. You can imagine how often media hosts, many of whom haven’t even read one Supreme Court opinion, felt empowered to call Turley out on his racist claptrap. (And it was racist claptrap. Read Sotomayor’s dissent in the travel ban case to get a taste of the woman who has quickly become the fiercest writer on the court since Thurgood Marshall.)

Turley wasn’t even the lead dog in the campaign to belittle Sotomayor. The tip of that spear was George Washington Law professor Jeffrey Rosen. In a piece for The New Republic titled “The Case Against Sotomayor,” Rosen found some unnamed law clerk to say that Sotomayor was “not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench.” Rosen now runs the legitimate sounding National Constitution Center. They just gave retired Republican justice Anthony Kennedy, who stepped down so Trump could name Brett Kavanaugh as his replacement, an award.

These legal elites are ensconced in tenure and available for comment. They don’t wear MAGA hats or share white supremacist memes on Twitter. They understand that the appearance of “objective analysis” is the key to smuggling in all of their Republican talking points under the guise of balance. During his Clinton testimony, Turley said he voted for Clinton. During his Trump testimony, Turley said that he didn’t vote for Trump. He said that his votes “didn’t matter,” but he was sure to put that useless information on the record both times. Why? Well, it’s an old trick, one Frodo Baggins would see through: “A servant of the enemy would look fairer and feel fouler.”

In my Supreme Court seminar this quarter, one of the books we discussed was Laura Kalman’s superb recent book The Long Reach of the Sixties. It deserves a post of its own, but one point she emphasizes in her history of LBJ and Nixon’s Supreme Court nominations is that it’s one of the many asymmetries between the parties: Republican judicial nominees keep getting more and more reactionary, while Democratic presidents generally nominate judges well to the right of New Deal/Great Society liberals like Douglas and Brennan and Marshall. Sotomayor is the closest a Democratic Supreme Court nominee has come to representing that tradition since the Johnson administration, and it’s no coincidence that she also got far more inane criticism from Even The Liberal bullshit artists and careerists than Kagan did, despite having considerably superior formal credentials. The idea that Sotomayor was temperamentally or intellectually unqualified had exactly as much basis as the idea that Brett Kavanaugh was a man of the most distinguished intellect and moral character, but when it comes to this particular grift there’s no legal cooling off period or lemon law when the public finds it’s been sold eight units of Mountainview by Republicans and their deadbeat “liberal” enablers.

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