As consolation prizes go, Louis Butler can't complain. After being twice rejected by Wisconsin voters for a place on the state Supreme Court, the former judge has instead been nominated by President Obama to a lifetime seat on the federal district court. If he is confirmed, Wisconsin voters will have years to contend with the decisions of a judge they made clear they would rather live without.The editorial proceeds with a few paragraphs about how liberal Butler supposedly is and concludes: "Mr. Butler's nomination shows the dominance of liberal ideology in Mr. Obama's judicial selections, and especially a contempt for Wisconsin voters."
Judge Butler served on the state Supreme Court for four years, enough time to have his judicial temperament grow in infamy. Having first run unsuccessfully in 2000, he was appointed by Democratic Governor Jim Doyle to the seat vacated by Justice Diane Sykes in 2004. But after serving four years, voters had seen enough of his brand of judicial philosophy, making him the first sitting justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court in four decades to lose a retention election last year.
Now, my position is that the President of the United States, under the U.S. Constitution, has the power to appoint federal judges, and therefore he can choose liberal or conservative judges as he sees fit. If they are well enough qualified — which includes the requirement that they have a judicial temperament and are committed to legitimate legal methodology — the Senate should confirm them. This is why I supported George Bush's nomination of Samuel Alito:
Those Democrats who are already insisting that Judge Alito's record on the bench makes him unacceptable should keep in mind that someday they, too, will have a president with a Supreme Court seat to fill, and it would serve the country well if that president wasn't forced to choose only among candidates with no paper trail. To oppose Judge Alito because his record is conservative is to condemn us to a succession of bland nominees and to deprive future presidents of the opportunity to choose from the men and women who have dedicated long years to judicial work.So Louis Butler has a liberal record as a judge. Obama is the President. I don't see the problem with confirmation.
But are the Wall Street Journal editors to be condemned as racist? I guess I need to nail down the point that Butler is African American. That's never mentioned in the editorial. Some of the people I have heard from are absolutely committed to the conclusion that the headline "The White House Butler" is undeniably and outrageously racist.
Now, it occurs to me that the person who came up with that headline may not even have known that Butler is black. It's not in the editorial, and I think headline writers tend to work with what's in the article. Here, the headline writer might have simply tried to come up with some play on the last name and didn't have to go very far to come up with the idea of a butler serving in the White House to insinuate that the judge would be doing Obama's bidding — carrying political ideology into the court.
The conventional image of a butler is quite white:
Those who see racism in the headline — because of the juxtaposition of "Butler" and "House"? — may perhaps be thinking of the idea of the "house negro and the field negro," as famously explained here by Malcolm X:
(Written text here.)
But there is nothing about Louis Butler's position in relation to Barack Obama that is at all like the "house negro" that Malcolm X opposed. And you'd have to stretch to say that the editorial insinuates that he is. You'd have to portray Obama as "the master" and the people of Wisconsin as the "field negroes." It's just too much to read into the editorial. You sound silly even saying it.
But that's not to say that the Wall Street Journal didn't lay a trap for Madison liberals. Maybe they knew they were putting in just enough resonance with racism to bait university types into crying racism. And if they do, as noted, those professors will sound silly, because there is nothing racial in the entire text of the editorial. And what will the people of Wisconsin think — those voters who twice rejected Louis Butler as a state judge — if they learn that Madison professors find outrageous racism in that headline?