October 25, 2006

"He missed the state of the union address one year."

Chief Justice John Roberts said about his predecessor William Rehnquist. "When asked why, he said it conflicted with a water color class at the YMCA he had signed up for."

Roberts was giving a speech at Middlebury College. One student said: "The thing I was intrigued by was not necessarily what he said, but how he said it. Questions I assumed he would say he could not answer, he would find a way to answer." Well, he's got a way with words... and knows how to frame answers to difficult questions.


Edward said...

What does Ann want us to do with this, talk about water coloring?

I think she's opening a door for us to praise the new Chief Justice, perhaps in contrast to the habitually intemperate Scalia, but for me at least, the jury's still out on Roberts.

He hasn't been on the Supreme Court long enough to form a clear opinion of him.

The early signs aren't very encouraging, however...

John Jenkins said...

Translation: I don't have an opinion, but it's bad.

Kirby Olson said...

Rehnquist was a Lutheran. I didn't realize he was also interested in the arts. It's a quite rare combination.

Has anyone seen his watercolors?

Are they as good as Carter's poetry?

David said...

The U.S. is blessed that it can produce citizens like Chief Justice Roberts. His thinking is clear and concise and void of the fuzzy logic and feel good rulings of those who believe in a living constitution.

I look forward to reading his opinions.

Ann Althouse said...

You're assuming he loved watercoloring. It's more likely a wisecrack about hating going to the State of the Union.

Edward said...

If Ann’s suggestion is right, and Roberts was trying to tell a joke, well then I don’t think he succeeded very well.

Scalia has a sense of humor, but it’s a lousy one. His jokes are bitter and partisan, exactly the kind that’s inappropriate for one of our nation’s top leaders.

Roberts’ “joke” – if that’s what it was – wasn’t bitter and partisan, but it didn’t have enough coherence to be really funny.

Just as with his overall performance on the court, the jury’s still out on Roberts’ sense of humor.

But the early signs aren't very encouraging…

Jeremy said...

Because reading only parts of a joke outside of any context is really the best way to get a feel for the degree of humor involved and therefore, the joke-teller's fitness for sitting on the SCOTUS. Well done, edward. You're awesome.

Can't we just all agree that State of the Union addresses are boring without devolving into bitter partisans?

Edward said...

Actually, a sense of humor is an important quality in a nation’s leaders.

A genuine sense of humor helps mitigate dangerous levels of partisanship.

Scalia has a perverted sense of humor, because his is based on his extreme partisanship.

Of course, Scalia denies that he’s a bitter partisan, but I think most people have a different, more accurate opinion of him.

Edward said...

In my last post, I used the term "perverted" in its classic sense of "misguided" and "misdirected."

I didn't mean that Scalia's humor is perverted in the sexual sense (although that is a possibility).

dick said...

I wonder what Scalia would have to say about Edward's sense of humor - if he has one. Apparently everyone has to agree with Edward's sense of humor or be branded as perverted. They will also be branded as not praiseworthy unless they agree totally with Edward. Since you can't have a sense of humor to be praiseworthy then, you had better be totally sour or else.

Bourgeois Boy said...

I think the joke's pretty good. The bit about the YMCA gives it away. Roberts is known for his dry sense of humor and this is a good example. The best quote from the article is on a different subject:

"I think this is the greatest challenge for emerging democracies. In some sense, getting to the point of free election is the easy part. What's hard is establishing an independent judiciary that can enforce the rule of law against the government as well as against the governed."

That's a very astute observation.

Kirby Olson said...

Rehnquist was quite involved in the arts, Ann. The following is by Mary Deibel, a journalist for Scripps Howard News Service. It's part of an overview article she wrote on Rehnquist. It appeared on September 4, 2005:

"Rehnquist also pondered writing a murder mystery set at a favorite hiking spot on the C&O Canal, but his book agent suggested otherwise.

A devotee of Broadway show tunes, patriotic songs and Gilbert and Sullivan (to the point he had gold-braid stripes sewed onto the sleeves of his black robe in the style of the Lord Chancellor in "Iolanthe"), Rehnquist is known for leading court sing-alongs.

So firm is his belief in music's charms that he ended a particularly divisive court term that included key flag-burning and abortion cases by leading fellow justices and court employees in a rousing chorus of "It's a Grand Old Flag" at the end-of-term party. One court employee's son who has attended court parties thought for years that Rehnquist was court musical director instead of his mother's boss.

Rehnquist also enjoyed painting, so much so that he skipped a presidential State of the Union speech that interfered with watercolors class at a neighborhood high school.

As speaker at that high school's commencement, Rehnquist urged students to develop a life outside their careers and to "try some things you haven't tried before." He cited his own life as example, recalling his own middle-age introduction to art and music, thanks to his wife Nan, who died in 1991 after a long bout with cancer."

The arts are crucial not just to the Executive and the Legislative, but also to the Judicial Branch. They provide a lesson in aesthetic distance.

Edward said...

See? I was right.

Based on what Kirby Olson just wrote about Rehnquist's hobbies, Roberts may not have been joking about the water coloring classes at the YMCA.

If Roberts truly was making a joke, it was an extremely ambiguous one, and therefore not very funny.

I'm not excoriating Roberts for (perhaps) telling an unfunny joke. I'm just saying that this one remark by Roberts in no way proves that he has a good sense of humor.

He may have a genuine sense of humor, but this remark about Rehnquist sure doesn't prove it.

JorgXMcKie said...

I think it's pretty obvious that anyone who doesn't share edward's political beliefs must by definition be devoid of a sense of humor. Or have only a 'perverted' one.

OTOH, I find edward's posts highly amusing. Keep 'em coming, guy.

Randy said...

Jorj: Amusing is not the first word that comes to my mind, but I guess maybe you are right. Edward has almost single-handedly convinced me that I ought to toss out whatever remnants of principle I retain and vote for the neanderthal Bible-thimping idiot of a congressman who represents the area in which I live (one of the top 50 endangered incumbents, and deservedly so, I might add).

If the Democrat running had more than half a brain, I would not be so inclined, but as he doesn't, casting a vote to spite Edward's sanctimonious twaddle has its appeal.

Maxine Weiss said...

Vermont is the prettiest State in the Union, unquestionably---we all know that.

It's not surprising that living there, all he'd want to do is paint water color scenes of beauty.

Peace, Maxine

Kirby Olson said...

I'd like to see the watercolors. I ran a google search and couldn't find any Rehnquists.

SWBarns said...

The entire Supreme Court skipped Clinton's 2000 State of the Union Speech.

Rehnquist, Scalia, O'Connor and Souter gave no explanation. Breyer and Ginsburg gave illness as an excuse. Stevens had his wife's illness. Thomas was attending his brother's funeral. Kennedy was to deliver a speech the day after the speech.

When asked later, Rehnquist gave his watercolor excuse which translated into "none of your damn business" or "I'm not going to directly criticize the President."