September 23, 2007

About Justice Kennedy's garish carpet and the way his desk is wedged in a corner.

Let's take a look at this passage from Jeffrey Toobin's book "The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court," page 147:
[Justice Anthony] Kennedy's vanity was generally harmless, almost charming -- sort of like the carpet in his office.

Understatement was the rule for the decor in most justices' chambers. Everyone had a few personal touches -- O'Connor employed a southwestern motif, with Native American blankets and curios; Ginsburg had opera mementos; Stevens had the box score from the World Series game in 1932 when Babe Ruth hit is "called shot" home run against the Chicago Cubs. (Stevens had attended the game as a twelve-year-old boy.) Kennedy, in contrast, installed a plush red carpet, more suited to a theater set than a judge's chambers. Worse (or better, depending on one's perspective), the carpet was festooned with gold stars -- garish touches that made the office a sort of tourist attraction for law clerks and other insiders.
So, let's see. Some law-clerk source of Toobin's was all... Omigod, you should see the carpet in Kennedy's office. It's all red like thick red like something you'd put in a theater set and it has like these garish stars all over it, so whenever our friends come in late at night we always go into Kennedy's chambers. I am always all you have got to see these garish stars like festooned all over the thing. I mean, like O'Connor has these really tasteful Native American thingies and Ginsburg has all this really high-class opera crap, and Stevens has that Babe Ruth thing because he actually saw Babe Ruth. My friend was all O'Connor and Ginsburg and Stevens all have stuff that like represents actual interests, you know, represents who they are. So it's like Kennedy is thick red carpet with gold stars, you know what I mean? Now, we all say that to each other whenever we want to crack up. It's always good when you want to roll on the floor laughing to have this really thick, plush, Kennedyesque, red carpet with garish stars to roll on.

What the hell? So what if Kennedy has proletarian taste in carpet? Does that mean anything about him? And, supposing it does, why would a man who likes thick carpet and bright colors be less suited to make decisions for us than someone with high-class, refined tastes? Who are these asinine clerks who are trying to take the justice down a peg because of his carpet?

And what the hell is a "theater set"? If you mean the carpet seemed like the kind you'd find in the aisles or lobby of a theater, that is not the set. The set is up on the stage, and the kind of carpet that would belong in the set would depend on what the play was. We're not using plush red with gold stars for "Long Day's Journey Into Night" or "Waiting for Godot."

Back to the passage that is irking me so bad:
All of the justices had the right to borrow paintings from the National Gallery, but Kennedy had taken the fullest advantage, plucking several near-masterpieces from the collection.
Now, what's the problem? He's got the good taste to pick the best paintings? Or do you think he's hogging paintings that the National Gallery would like to have on display for the general public? I'm willing to bet that the National Gallery is lending paintings that would otherwise be in storage. So now you're knocking Kennedy because he likes art? That makes him inferior -- more grandiose -- than the justices who display their personal memorabilia? Why?
What was more, he wedged his desk into the far corner of his office, away from the door, so that visitors had to traverse the expanse of the room to shake his hand.
Who's imposing that interpretation of the placement of the desk? There are any number of reasons why you might choose to position your desk in a corner. In fact, if Toobin wasn't in the middle of promoting the theory that Kennedy -- as the next sentence reads -- "tried hard, maybe too hard, to impress," most readers would probably think the corner was a rather humble position for a desk. Or maybe the light is better over there. But Kennedy is a ridiculous man, don't you know. He has red carpet, paintings, and a desk in the corner. Q.E.D.


Trooper York said...

From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend reading it.
Groucho Marx

Maxine Weiss said...

A woman marries, the first time, for money. She marries, the second time, for sex. ---And the third time, for love.

Palladian said...
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Palladian said...

Here's Justice Kennedy in his chambers. Does this look garish? I like the deep red, and his desk and its positioning don't seem abnormal.

Here are some panoramic images of the chambers of Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Stevens. I like Justice Breyer's the best. Both Stevens' and Ginsburg's chambers suffer greatly from the horrid fluorescent office lighting on the ceiling. Ghastly!

George M. Spencer said...

This book sounds extremely tedious.

Thank you for making it abundantly clear to me that I will never need to crack its cover.

Dylan said...


I've not read Toobin's book, so I don't know, but would you please provide supporting statements from it in which Toobin implies that Justice Kennedy's garish taste in interior decor is somehow indicative of his ability to render well-reasoned and just decisions, as you imply?

I appreciate you don't like the book (that's fine) but now you sorta seem to be going to the same sort of extremes to discredit it that you accuse Toobin of doing.

Ruth Anne Adams said...
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Ann Althouse said...

Palladian: Those offices are so ugly it made me cry.

Dylan: The book is full of stuff like this. Judging the judges by impressionistic flashes about little things.

Randy said...

If what you've mentioned so far is the best Toobin could do, copies of this book should be spilling off remainder shelves soon. The picture paints of Kennedy's office bears only a passing resemblance to the real picture of Kennedy's office. The psycho-babble about the desk ignores the reality of space therein, the other furnishings therein, and the position of the windows, as evidenced by the picture.

Dylan said...

My point is there is nothing in the statements you provide here that show that he is "judging the judges" at all... It seems to me like he's merely describing Kennedy's office...

The closest thing to being judgemental you provide is "Kennedy's vanity was generally harmless, almost charming --..."

Now, if Toobin followed these anecdotes up with, "But from time to time his vanity served the court poorly, as with the time when he refused to take his seat at the bench because his dentures weren't 'as white as I'd normally like them to be,'" then, yeah... you'd have a point...

My comment was simply to ask, "Does Toobin do this," If he doesn't, then you are being a little bit petty and not really giving us an accurate accounting of the book.

Cedarford said...

Absent is Toobin talking about Clek's impressions of Scalia and Souters chambers.

"We're afraid to go in Scalia's dungeon. God knows what lurks there. And if he showed up, he might eat us little mice."

"Souter? Funny, no one really has much interest to look in. I think some lawyer who used to clerk for him mentioned it was very neat, his mother would want...and there is a jar of sour pickles on his desk he nibbles on when he feels like doing something."

Seriously, I did a read of Woodward's "The Brethren" and thought it was well-researched and well done.

Unknown said...

That is a garish office.

chuck b. said...

Even if I had to consult them often, I would absolutely *hate* to have all those case books in my office. (What do you call them? Horn books? Something like that. Whatever, I'm not a lawyer.) I guess it's better than having to print everything out from Lexis Nexis all the time. But, still. I'd want to hide them in the closet or something. Or behind a revolving door, like a Murphy Bed, or Batgirl's costume room on the old Batman TV show. They just seem so heavy, and cumbersome. How often do they open the one from 1939 anyway?

Anonymous said...

Memo to Toobin: maybe Justice Kennedy's desk is located where it is because he has a nice view out that window in the far corner of the room, which he gets to enjoy just by sliding his desk chair back a tad? See the picture linked by Palladian.