Friday, January 27, 2006

Courting Disaster

I had a very strange dream a few nights ago. I dreamt that I was the newest member of the Supreme Court. I really haven't been paying all that much attention to the Alito confirmation hearings, so I'm not sure why the high court was on my mind. In my dream, I had no recollection of the confirmation hearings that I presumably went through before becoming the court's youngest and least-qualified member. Apparently, the stature of the court was no longer what it once was (possibly due to my confirmation) so instead of hearing cases in Washington, DC, the justices all travelled to the plaintiff's hometown and held court in a local courthouse or possibly a school gymnasium. My first case was located, conveniently enough, in Ithaca, NY, so I headed down there and met up with my new colleagues.

My waking self could probably pick 4-5 of the current Supreme Court justices out of a lineup, but when I arrived in Ithaca, I didn't recognize any of them. They all must have figured that I knew who they were because they didn't introduce themselves when they shook my hand. I was freaking out at this point. I knew it was only a matter of time before my complete ignorace of constitutional law would be exposed. I started trying to figure out people's names by process of elimination, but I couldn't even eliminate Clarence Thomas from the group. There were a couple guys who had darker colored skin, but neither looked like Thomas (or African-Americans, for that matter).

After the introductions, we all headed to the courthouse. I didn't know any details about the case until we arrived. The case involved a man who had donated a bunch of signs to the city of Ithaca. Some of them were the orange pylons that construction crews put on the road when they are doing construction, some where the yellow signs they put in the bathroom after they mop the floor. The problem was that some of the signs had religious symbols and messages on them (crucifixes, Bible verses, etc.). The question was whether or not it was constitutional for the city to use these signs in public places. The justices started giving their opinions and citing precedents, one after the other. Meanwhile, I was thinking to myself how stupid the whole thing was. I was about to blurt out "Who the hell cares!" during the debate, but I stopped because I realized that such an outburst might expose me as a fraud. If I was going to convince people that I was fit to be a Supreme Court justice, I had to care about the constitutionality of a municipality accepting a gift of traffic cones with Biblical verses painted on them. I woke up before I had to give my expert legal opinion on the issue, thankfully.

I wonder how often real Supreme Court justices feel the way I did in my dream? The cases that make it all the way to the Supreme Court are generally pretty important, but a lot of times, it seems like the justices have to split an excessive number of hairs to arrive at a ruling. We may someday have a case where the justices rule 9-0 in favor of who gives a damn.


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