James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘activist judges’

The activist conservative Supreme Court and its contradictions

Posted by James McPherson on May 12, 2010

Remember when conservatives said they didn’t want activist judges, back in the days when they were still able to pretend (though the claim was pretty far-fetched during most our history) that activism somehow meant liberalism? We now have pretty good evidence that the current Supreme Court, in addition to being an activist court, is perhaps the most conservative in history.

Apparently four of the five most conservative judges who have served since 1937 are on the court today, with another current justice, Anthony Kennedy, ranked No. 10. Incidentally, Clarence Thomas–whom I had previously considered to be the equivalent of a ventriloquist’s dummy for Antonin Scalia (except that wooden dummies typically come across as smarter and more expressive than Thomas), is actually ranked as more conservative than Scalia. Or anyone else who has served since 1937.

And of course the most relatively liberal John Paul Stevens is the  justice who is leaving, with the largely unknowable Elena Kagan nominated by pseudo-liberal Barack Obama to take Stevens’ place on a court of contradictions. Assuming Kagan is seated, the court will have a record number of women on the court–and all of them from New York City. Her appointment means that four of the nine justices will have been appointed by Democrats, the “best” it has been for progressives for more than 40 years. Oh yeah, those damned liberal activist courts!

Except for his race, Thomas seems to be the justice who would feel most at home at a Tea Party gathering, but in fact most of today’s justices could hang out at such a gathering unnoticed (not least of which is because most tea partiers wouldn’t recognize a Supreme Court justice if they tripped over him). And the fact that the only black man on the court is its most conservative member–while the only other African American to serve, Thurgood Marshall is ranked as the least conservative since 1937–is only one current oddity of the court.

It appears that Protestants may want to start clamoring for more diversity on the court, considering that it is about to be made up of six Catholics and three Jews. NPR notes that half of the Roman Catholics who have ever served are on the court now. (The first Catholic also has the distinction of being perhaps the worst chief justice ever; Roger Taney wrote the Dred Scott decision, which some Arizonans are no doubt trying to figure out how to apply to Hispanics today).

I’ve complained in the past about how America’s leaders were more conservative than the people they pretend to serve. But as long as corporations have more political power and more interest in the process than people do, those in power will continue to benefit from an increasingly activist conservative court.

Posted in History, Legal issues, Politics, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

More Bush-league antics: Did administration knowingly lock up innocents to play politics?

Posted by James McPherson on April 9, 2010

New revelations about the ongoing international embarrassment that is Guantanamo:  The Times of London today reports, “George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror.”

The claim is made by Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and because Wilkerson has been a regular critic of the Bush administration his account will (and should) be questioned. Still, according to the newspaper, Wilkerson maintains that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld “knew that the majority of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantánamo in 2002 were innocent but believed that it was ‘politically impossible to release them.'”

Once again we’re left to wonder if the most dangerous post-9/11 war criminals were those who had offices in the White House.

Sadly, if Bush administration abuses are ever considered by the same Supreme Court that put Bush in office in the first place, the sole remaining real liberal on the court–Justice John Paul Stevens–will be gone.

It is a sad reflection of how far federal politics has shifted to the right, despite the fantasies of Glenn Beck and assorted Tea Party Mad Hatters, that the most liberal member of the court is someone who was appointed by Republican Gerald Ford. Sadder still is that a president whom loonies now claim to be a “socialist,” despite the fact that Barack Obama is more probably conservative than Richard Nixon, is the “liberal” who will get to try to replace Stevens.

At least the conservatives who will reflexively fight the nomination (and if Obama were to nominate Rush Limbaugh, those conservatives would suddenly be screaming that Limbaugh was “too liberal”) cannot hope to credibly claim that they don’t want “activist judges,” if they’ve paid any attention to Supreme Court decisions of the past few years.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »