Monday, October 31, 2005

Ms. Rosa

Melissa and I stood in line for over six hours last night so we could walk past the casket of Rosa Parks which was on display in the Capitol Rotunda. Late last week, Congress passed a resolution allowing Parks to lie in honor in the Capitol; she's the first woman ever to be given that honor and one of only a handful of non-elected citizens. When we decided to go earlier in the evening, however, we didn'’t anticipate just how long it would take to make it through the Capitol. I'm embarrassed to admit that I thought of throwing in the towel after seeing the line, but we stuck it out and it was well-worth it.

More than a generation removed from Jim Crow laws, Martin Luther King Jr., and much of the Civil Rights movement, I sometimes forget how deeply entrenched discrimination still was less than fifty years ago. When I read cases like Brown v. Board of Education and Bolling v. Sharpe, the United States they describe seems like another universe.

I'm grateful for experiences that lull me out of my complacent and, at times, narrow world-view. As we stood in line with scores of people who had struggled through the bitter storm of desegregation and saw the reverence that they had for Ms. Parks, I realized the long shadow that this era still casts. I think many of those in line would have stood there for days for the chance to honor Rosa and the movement she sparked.

There was healing to be had though. Inching forward at our snail's pace every hour, we clapped and sang songs, everything from We Shall Overcome to Movin' On Up. White, black, young old, we sang together... and I think somewhere a weary, middle-aged secretary sitting on a crowded old bus smiled.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

My Afternoon With Justice Ginsburg

Memorable experiences have a way of dropping in on you when you least expect them to. Take today for instance. George Washington University opened a two-day symposium on the legacy of the Rehnquist Court with a panel composed of former U.S. Solicitors General (current Solicitor General Paul Clement moderating). To preface the panel discussion, the law school managed to get Ruth Bader Ginsburg to come and share her memories of the late Chief Justice (GWU law professor and former Ginsburg law clerk Amanda Tyler seems to still have a little pull with the Associate Justice).

All the tickets to the event had supposedly been claimed long ago, but I figured there was no harm in trying to finagle my way into the auditorium where the panel was being held. Surprisingly enough, no finagling was required. There wasn’t even security at the door (a seemingly shocking oversight). The organizers had opted to allow standing room attendance and so the crowds were packing in at the rear of the auditorium. To avoid the inevitable purge of the tightly packed back end of the lecture hall, I pushed through the swarming masses and settled in near the front of the hall by the far right corner of the stage. In doing so, I not only managed to elude the subsequent effort to thin the crowd, but I was able to see Justice Ginsburg speak up close, from no more than twenty feet away.

Justice Ginsburg is very petite and struck me as rather soft-spoken, but she is nonetheless a commanding presence. In reminiscing about the Chief Justice, it was clear that she had a genuine affection for him. She called him the “best boss she’s ever had” and lauded his evenhanded approach in overseeing the administration of the Court. She said he was always imminently fair in assigning out the responsibility to write opinions, and in the bi-monthly conferences he chaired, she could never remember him ever disparaging another Justice for his or her position on an issue. She also made note of the sensitivity and kindness he showed her when she battled colon cancer in 1999.

In reflecting on Rehnquist’s legacy, Justice Ginsburg acknowledged some of her differences with his interpretative approach to the Constitution, but she noted two cases in particular where his votes had pleasantly surprised her. The first was in Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, a case she actually argued before the Court in 1975 that involved a gender-based distinction mandated by the Social Security Act. Rehnquist concurred in the Court’s decision to strike down the distinction on the grounds that it failed a rational basis review. And the second was in United States v. Virginia, a 1996 case involving an equal protection claim against the Virginia Military Institute. Ginsburg, then an Associate Justice on the Court, authored the majority opinion, and Rehnquist again concurred in the result, finding no substantially related “important governmental objectives” to justify the exclusion of women at VMI.

In ending, Ginsburg remarked that a Chief Justice brings only him or her-self into the position. Chief Justices are given tools which allow them to be first among equals, but their influence and greatness depend entirely on how they handle those tools. Justice Rehnquist, she said, handled them masterfully. Not having had much exposure to Justice Ginsburg outside an opinion here or there in a law school textbook, I left thoroughly impressed. What struck me most was the collegiality that clearly exists between the Justices in spite of philosophical differences that sometimes run deep. A memorable experience to be sure on what would otherwise have been another ordinary day.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Heeeerrrrreeee'sss Jonny

Just a year after his infamous Crossfire appearance, Jon Stewart graced the GW campus with another appearance this past Friday. Melissa and I somehow finagled tickets, and while they didn’t come cheap, it was more than worth it. Since getting rid of cable this summer we were in serious need of a Jon-Stewart-fix. Kristen Kellems might peg me as having a bit of a male-crush, but what can I say? I’m not afraid to admit I love the man.

What I like most about Stewart, outside of being an equal opportunity offender, is his bullsh-t radar—He has this uncanny ability to hone right in on the ironies of practically any situation. It also helps that he doesn’t strike me as particularly ideological

Instead of directing his ire at a cable news show this time around, Stewart simply directed it at just about everyone else. Here are a few highlights (with the disclaimer that these quotes might be paraphrased a little):

Democrats Regaining Power: “Rapture will soon be upon us and only then will the Democrats regain control of the House and Senate... Nah, we'll f--- that up too. Somehow, Nader will get it.”

President Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina: “The president had a day of prayer. He should have had a truck of food.”

Where Bob Novak is these days: “He only comes out at night now. When you feast on the blackness of souls, sunlight can eat away at your fleshy exterior.”

U.S. in the Middle East: “We’re never getting out of the Middle East and I’ll tell you why – It’s because God decided to found all three of the dominant world religions within two square blocks of each other.”

“Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance: “If you want to make a phrase meaningless, make second-graders repeat it every day.”

Posting the 10 Commandments in schools: “The 10 Commandments keeps kids from shooting other kids just as well as the ‘Employees must wash hands’ sign keeps piss out of my Happy Meal.”

Intelligent Design: “Maybe God said ‘Oh Sh-t! It’s due tomorrow!!!’”

Easter: “Jesus Christ comes to offer salvation, dies for the sins of man, is resurrected in glory… and we say ‘I’m thinking painted eggs.’ Maybe there’s something to it though: 12 apostles, 12 eggs in carton... and one always comes cracked (Judas).”

The Pope: “The Pope is the most loved man that no one agrees with.”

Boy Scouts banning gays: “The definition of gay is thousands of young men wearing neckerchiefs going to a jamboree.”

Jewish Response to Oppression: Blacks created Jazz [in response to oppression]. Jews complain too, we just never thought of putting it to music.”

Minorities: “Minorities also have an obligation to the majority. If you are a minority, you shouldn’t make everyone have to honor you and how “special” you are. If you’re Jewish and live in a town that is all Christian, you’re going to need put up with a damned Christmas tree.”

Having Children: “I've never gotten the chance to ruin someone from scratch before.”

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Road To Hell...

So the last few months flew by and my good intentions to blog my summer happenings for all the world to see came to naught. I'm sure no one's the worse for it, but hopefully I can pull myself out of the 2L hole I'm in long enough to manage at least something close to a weekly post from here on out.