September 7, 2005

Connecting Roberts and Katrina — a good Democratic move?

The Boston Globe reports:
Senate Democrats said yesterday that they will invoke the vast disparities in income and living conditions laid bare by the Hurricane Katrina disaster to sharpen their questioning of Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. at his confirmation hearings next week.

The scenes of devastation featuring primarily poor African-American residents in New Orleans have highlighted the widening gap between rich and poor, said Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts.

With Roberts having urged a narrow interpretation of civil rights laws in the past, Senate Democrats will link the scenes of economic hardship with the constitutional and legal issues that surround efforts to address racial and economic inequalities, he said.

''We have made very important progress over the period of the last 50 years in knocking down walls of discrimination so that people can participate and be a part of a changed America," said Kennedy, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. ''And he's going to be asked to explain some of his advice that would have, I think, undermined that progress in important ways."...

Roberts has appeared headed for relatively easy confirmation. But Democrats and liberal groups hope that issues raised by Katrina offer a new opening to critique his record on civil rights and to point out differences between Democrats, who favor a powerful role for the federal government, and Republicans, who are more deferential to the states.

Leahy said he watched the scenes of hardship on television with a growing sense of anger over the inability to deliver services to those who depend most on the government, issues he said would come up during the Roberts hearings.
Or did Leahy watch the scenes of hardship on television with a growing sense of how he might try to get the upper hand at the Roberts hearings?

But a Supreme Court justice should have sensitivity about the plight of the poor and the country's longterm problems with racism. Many judges come from relatively privileged backgrounds, and one does have to worry that their judgment will be off as they weigh interests and think about remedies.

It's unpleasant, however, to see the great Katrina catastrophe used to score political points, and politicians that do that risk their own reputations. But at the same time, Katrina has made us look at an aspect of American life that is usually far in the background. It forced us to see how many poor people there are, how so many of them are black, and how government can fail them.

We will see how Kennedy, Leahy, and the others handle themselves if they decide to use this strategy. Of course, Roberts can be counted on to respond well. If those are to be the questions, he will give just the right answers, demonstrating his strong understanding of the problems of poverty and racisim and tying that to his profound commitment to the Constitution.

IN THE COMMENTS: Someone notes Senator Kennedy's experience with the subject drowning. He will want to refrain from saying things trigger that association.

35 comments:

SteveR said...

The problem is that senators like Leahy and Kennedy among others (and its not just Democrats) are so certain of being re-elected that they feel no hesitation about using catastrophes to score political points. In Leahy's case, his reputation is that of an a** hole, so this strategy is right in line with what you'd expect.

Charles said...

What does Ted Kennedy, of all people, know about the plight of the poor? Or for that matter, the majority of the House or Senate? How would they recognize a good decision? Are there standards they can actually speak about for this, or is it just made up as they go along?

Goesh said...

The Supreme Court and hurricanes - what next? And some still avail themselves of the notion that the same forces of nature are not at play in making people poor. Foisting blame and guilt, like a shell game at a cheap carnival, we never know what slight of hand will bear upon the Collective to rectify the choices people often make that bring them to the brink of destitution. And how is that for many of us when hard times befall us we do not resort to vice and sloth and demand material salvation from others?

Sloanasaurus said...

Louisana has been run by democrats for the last 100 years and represented by democrats in Congress. If democrats are so much better at helping the poor, then why are there so many poor citizens living in New Orleans.

The fact is that traditional Democrat policies to help the poor actually make people poorer.

One would think that Clinton proved this to be true. Now it comes back with a vengence from the left.

Sloanasaurus said...

If Democrats are working hard to split up the Republican coalition over issues such as immigration, the war in iraq, and Congressional spending, they can be sure that they will undo all this hard work if they start advocating big government as a solution to America's poor.

EddieP said...

I know it's imposssible, but I would just love to see John Roberts and a$$hole Leahy have a Dick Cheney moment.

sloanasaurus and Louisiana nails it!

ALH ipinions said...

Ann, I think your take on this prospect reflects an acute understanding of the social, legal and political interrelatedness of racism and poverty in America.

Indeed it is not for Roberts to explain the horrific images that came out of New Orleans (and Mississippi) last week; or to defend his judicial record within this nightmarish context. Clinton is right in delcaring that the government "failed those people." But if he took a good look in the mirror, he would find fault with his own leadership in this regard.

Nevertheless, don't you think that leadership requires Bush to demand someone's resignation over the post-Katrina failures? After all, such a gesture would show accountability and have important symbolic merit (especially from the victims' perspective).

Gerry said...

"Nevertheless, don't you think that leadership requires Bush to demand someone's resignation over the post-Katrina failures?"

While I am not exactly sure that scalp collecting really would accomplish much, let's say that Bush decided to heed your advice and demanded the resignations of not only Brown, but Blanco and Nagin.

Would he be able to count on your support and approval?

Too Many Jims said...

Gerry,

I don't think he is in a position to "demand" that Nagin and Blanco resign.

Scipio said...

Jim said it best.

However, I take it as a great comfort that some unknown number of New Orleans police officers have taken it upon themselves to resign. I suppose it's only fair, since they now lack the sources of graft that made their lifestyles possible.

vnjagvet said...

These tactics by the esteemed Senators remind me of an old saying that comes off as a bad pun under the circumstances:

"Any port in a storm"

Jim Rhoads (not the other Jim)

Gerry said...

Anyone is in the position to call for anyone to resign.

Being in position to fire someone is another question.

My point was that those who are calling for Bush to fire someone, while not calling for Nagin or Blanco to resign or fire someone, are simply playing politics. Nothing more, nothing less.

reader_iam said...

There may be very good reason to fire Brown and others. But for reasons of "symbolism"? Please, no. Like symbolic hirings, symbolic firings are ultimately corrosive to the system, leading to long-term degradation of standards--moral, ethical, intellectual, and, yes, even practical. IMHO.

Justice is not promoted in this way; accountability is turned on its head; individual dignity is trampled; and the notion of integrity becomes a joke, leading rightly to ever more lack of respect for standards for, or even the very idea of, the institutions that form the basis of civil society.

Sorry this sounds so highfalutin'. In short, people should be fired because they've demonstrated they're NOT in charge (i.e., individually fulfilling their responsibilities, demonstrating general competence, etc.), not simply because they ARE (i.e., because of their title, position etc. alone--the symbol itself).

Note that there appears to be grounds to fire Brown based on the former .... smile ...

(Now, RESIGNATION as a symbolic gesture strikes me as a different matter ... maybe because of the individual dignity & accountability thing .... )

The Searcher said...

Argh! As a resident of MA, if Kennedy does not get voted out at the next available opportunity I am just going to scream! He's been a major figure in the federal judge gridlock, and every time I hear something come out of his mouth I just get more angry!

AJ Lynch said...

This is a stupendously stupid tactic for the Dems to take.

Why didn't the Globe point that out? They certainly would have if the Republicans had concocted such a dumb scheme.

Thank God People won't buy the "old system is failing due to racism".

Too Many Jims said...

"Stupendously stupid tactic"

Depends how it is executed. I think we will have to wait and see.

(Though I readily admit I can not see how it will be executed well and a number of ways it could be executed poorly.)

Ruth Anne Adams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
leeontheroad said...

The horrors of Katrina and the storm's aftermath (which I view as largely a human failure) are so enormous, I think these should beviewed as a call to remmeber what David Brooks had to say about popular sentiment, especially populist sentiment, after other US floods.

We've had a lot of claiming from the right that any mention of racial and ethnic disparity in this country is a call to "class war." Often to my ears such claims fail to deal with any substance to facts such as a rising poverty rate, despite a growing economy on the macro level.

Still, I suspect the named Dem Senators of opportunism in using the Roberts confirmation hearings to score points or appear to be "doing soemthing." It's not at all clear that a so-called "narrow interpreation of civil rights" or particular views of the Commerce Clause etc. mean that the Supreme Court can much effect the disparities of income and opportunity that are laid bare in the plight of folks in LA, MI and AL.

Robert said...

Poverty and racism are not appropriate questions for jurists to concern themselves with in their official capacity. Jurists should be concerned with the constitutionality of laws, with whether the laws have been applied in an evenhanded and equitable manner, and with procedural questions.

Brando said...

he will give just the right answers, demonstrating his strong understanding of the problems of poverty and racisim and tying that to his profound commitment to the Constitution

Ann, are you personally in charge of the talking points on this issue? Why don't you let the man speak first, and then we can judge whether or not his comments are "just right" in light of the harsh reality of povery, racism, inequality exposed in the wake of Katrina.

vnjagvet said...

Brando:

I read Ann's post as a prediction not a talking point. From seeing excerpts of Robert's performance in his last hearing, and reading some transcripts of his arguments before the Supreme Court, I believe Ann's prediction is right on. We shall see, but from what I have seen from Ann in the past, her predictions on matters judicial are generally prescient.

The other jim.

Charlie (Colorado) said...

Jim:

I don't think he is in a position to "demand" that Nagin and Blanco resign.

Why not? He was apparently supposed to be able to overrule their authority and impose martial law.

Ann Althouse said...

Brando: It's just completely easy for me to predict this. I know people want to get charged up about the hearings, but, as I've been saying all along, it's thoroughly predictable. I'm already overwhelmed with ennui!

ALH ipinions said...

As the one who raised the spectre of resignation and symbolism in this forum, I feel obliged to comment further:

I believe Bush’s firing (or demanding the resignation of) the person he deems most responsible for this tragic failure would be a humane (and political sensible) gesture. It would demonstrate to the (predominantly black) victims from New Orleans that he “gets it” and is not merely mouthing words of outrage. After all, despite the bureaucratic wrangling, the victims look to him for justice which, incidentally, must be seen to be done!

And, any informed person who does not see the symbolic merit in an immediate firing or resignation at the federal level is being either disingenuous or cravenly partisan.

Meade said...

Beside his personal experiences with watery disasters, might it also behoove Senator Kennedy to steer clear of the subject of which urban projects received federal largesse during the 90's and which ones did not?

Congress has a $14 billion proposal designed to reverse this process, to restore the wetlands that provide buffers against storms. This would also help keep the city of New Orleans from continually sinking further below sea level. But Congress has chosen other big projects as worthier of its attention. The Big Dig, a $15 billion project to bury two miles of a highway in central Boston was the favored public works project that President Clinton awarded Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. The Everglades has a $7 billion project to accomplish some of what needs to be done in the Mississippi River basin. link

Brando said...

Is there a good source of raw material on Roberts? Briefs he's made, articles, position statements etc?

Lars said...

Any attempt to racialize the SCOTUS nomination could backfire; GWB might well nominate Janice Rogers Brown.

alikarimbey said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Adam said...

There is an alternate, but perhaps more fruitful link between Roberts and the Katrina disaster -- Bush's insistence in nominating people with little experience for key positions.

Is Roberts qualified for associate justice? Sure. But <2 years of judicial experience, plus nothing in the way of executive leadership (Warren, Taft) makes him seem much less qualified than any Chief Justice in American history.

Gerry said...

Melville Fuller, pick up the white courtesy phone. Melville Fuller, the white phone please.

And Adam, you can also look up Morrison Waite.

Matt said...

There's a reason why your average person, even, hell, your average lawyer, could not identify Melville W. Fuller. Heck, in my undergrad legal history class, there was a reason that when we were choosing books to read and review, the last one left for the unlucky person was the one on Chief Justice Fuller.

Bruce Hayden said...

One person who doesn't shy away from the mention of Mary Jo Kopechne in regards to Sen. Kennedy is James Taranto in his WSJ Best of the Web. For example, today:

"What the American people have seen is this incredible disparity in which those people who had cars and money got out and those people who were impoverished died."--Ted Kennedy on Hurricane Katrina

""--Mary Jo Kopechne on Hurricane Katrina

Bruce Hayden said...

It should bear noting the sheer chutzpah of Senator Kennedy in that statement of his I quoted from Best of the Web. Though not one of the richest Senators, he is still a multimillionaire, gratis his rum running father.

Which is why the entire racial and poverty angle is so disingenuous. You have a bunch of white multimillionaires pretending for political purposes to be concerned about the plight of the poor and minorities.

What is worse, is that many of them didn't earn their wealth, but, like Kennedy, Rockefeller, Kerry, et al., inherited and/or married it.

Meade said...

Although, to be fair, marrying wealth can be seen as a kind of earning it. in some cases.

Adam said...

Gerry, you mean the same Morrison Waite who "was a judge of the Superior Court and associate judge of the Supreme Court of Connecticut in 1834-1854 and chief justice of the latter in 1854-1857."?

Okay, so he's only less experienced than 15/16 previous Chief Justices of the United States. I can see the ads now: "Support Judge Roberts: Marginally More Qualified Than Melville Fuller!"