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Unhappy warriors


Good comment from Murc on the reactionary Supreme Court justices who are getting everything they wanted but aren’t respected:

The mid-century liberal courts are revered within academia and to a lesser extent within the wider culture. Those jurists are lauded as titans; some of them were even lauded as titans when they were still alive. If you look at the way Thurgood Marshall was spoken of across the ideological spectrum in the 80s, sure, there were some people who hated him, but its nearly inconceivable that any SC Justice would be as near-universally beloved as he was then today.

Those are the courts that handed down what I call the Magnificent Seven; Brown, Loving, Griswold, Reynolds, Gideon, Miranda, and Roe. (Baker should probably be in there but that results in a less pithy moniker.) Law professors have spent three generations presenting these as the bedrocks of modern rights-based jurisprudence; to a large degree, the Federalist Society only exists because the cranks and weirdoes taking the position of “no, those decisions were all bad actually” are and were a despised minority who had to build their own clubhouse where they could get on with the business of spitting into each others mouths. Those justices were and are legendary.

And the conservative justices who are busily engaged in dynamiting their legacy aren’t going to get that. And they know that. And it angers them.

They might not even all be aware of this consciously. (Roberts is; that’s why he’s so obsessed with image control and the slow game.) But they ARE aware of it. Alito is going to be considered a vandal; so are his co-conspirators. They will not be beloved. They will be hated.

This makes them feel cheated. In their minds, they are owed. They did everything right; they assembled an ideological majority and are now implementing their preferred policy, just like their forebears did, and feel they’re entitled to the same level of respect and dignity and widespread cultural cachet those forebears got. Even people they hate and despise should respect them, because dammit, they earned it. It’s supremely Nixonian. (See also: the conservative obsession with “cultural elites” having “power.”)

Alito is going to score an immense victory for his preferred outcomes… and he feels like shit. He feels attacked and unsafe. He feels disrespected. It isn’t supposed to be like that; winning is supposed to make you feel good, and he doesn’t, and that makes him mad.

These people are small and petty. Say what you will about Scalia, he was a happy warrior. He welcomed the hatred of his enemies and didn’t give a shit about being respected by people he, himself, did not respect. He would be joyous in his victory. He would be popping the BIG bottles and flipping birds to protesters, laughing as he was escorted to his car.

It’s cold comfort in the wake of the enormities they’re perpetrating, but I do take SOME satisfaction in the fact that these are crabbed, unhappy people.

As Mark Graber once observed, there’s a tendency by legal scholars to talk about the Warren Court as if Goldwater had won a landslide in 1964. During its relatively brief period with a liberal median vote, it represented a large national coalition. And because LBJ and Warren botched the transition so badly, Republicans instantly captured the Court, meaning that only the precedents with a substantial enough combination of popular and elite support could survive. The Alito Court, on the other hand, speaks for a minority faction that has won the popular vote once since 1988, and the agenda it seeks to implement through the courts involves some of its least popular items. Because of the malapportionment of the Senate and Electoral College, they can get away with it for the short and probably medium term. But it’s just not a stable equilibrium, and on some level the protesting-too-much seems to reflect that.

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