“It’s easy to like Roberts. Unlike other members of the conservative wing of the court, he doesn’t look like his ideology is consuming his flesh from the inside out. The rest of the court ghouls embody the old Orwell quote that by age 50 every man has the face he deserves. Thomas—sullen, glowering, damned—digs his chin further into his neck with every session, his jowls subsiding like a California landslide in agonizing slow motion. Alito sits like a rubberized effacement of humanity, with his doll’s-eyed cipher expression taking turns with a simpering smile only a cruel person would teach somebody. Then there’s Scalia, America’s prick uncle who farts at Easter dinner and doesn’t even need to overhear all of your conversation before interrupting you to tell you you’re wrong.”—
Arizona v. United States (2012):The case in which the Supreme Court ruled, in part, against Arizona’s 2010 law regarding illegal immigrants.
We are not talking here about a federal law prohibiting the States from regulating bubble-gum advertising, or even the construction of nuclear plants. We are talking about a federal law going to the core of state sovereignty: the power to exclude.
The Court opinion’s looming specter of inutterable horror—“[i]f §3 of the Arizona statute were valid, every State could give itself independent authority to prosecute federal registration violations”—seems to me not so horrible and even less looming.
If securing its territory in this fashion is not within the power of Arizona, we should cease referring to it as a sovereign State.
PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin (2001):A lawsuit brought by the disabled golfer Casey Martin, who wanted to be allowed to ride in a golf cart between shots, something that the P.G.A. prohibited at the time. The Court ruled in Martin’s favor.
If one assumes, however, that the PGA TOUR has some legal obligation to play classic, Platonic golf—and if one assumes the correctness of all the other wrong turns the Court has made to get to this point—then we Justices must confront what is indeed an awesome responsibility. It has been rendered the solemn duty of the Supreme Court of the United States, laid upon it by Congress in pursuance of the Federal Government’s power “[t]o regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States,” to decide What Is Golf. I am sure that the Framers of the Constitution, aware of the 1457 edict of King James II of Scotland prohibiting golf because it interfered with the practice of archery, fully expected that sooner or later the paths of golf and government, the law and the links, would once again cross, and that the judges of this august Court would some day have to wrestle with that age-old jurisprudential question, for which their years of study in the law have so well prepared them: Is someone riding around a golf course from shot to shot really a golfer? The answer, we learn, is yes. The Court ultimately concludes, and it will henceforth be the Law of the Land, that walking is not a “fundamental” aspect of golf.
Lee v. Weisman (1992):The case addressed religious prayer at public-school graduation ceremonies, which the majority found to be unconstitutional.
I find it a sufficient embarrassment that our Establishment Clause jurisprudence regarding holiday displays has come to “requir[e] scrutiny more commonly associated with interior decorators than with the judiciary.” But interior decorating is a rock hard science compared to psychology practiced by amateurs.
Wabaunsee County v. Umbehr (1996):A case about the First Amendment rights of independent contractors with government contracts.
What secret knowledge, one must wonder, is breathed into lawyers when they become Justices of this Court, that enables them to discern that a practice which the text of the Constitution does not clearly proscribe, and which our people have regarded as constitutional for 200 years, is in fact unconstitutional?
Atkins v. Virginia (2002):The case in which the Court ruled that executing the mentally retarded is a “cruel and unusual punishment” and thus a violation of the Eighth Amendment.
Seldom has an opinion of this Court rested so obviously upon nothing but the personal views of its members.
United States v. Virginia (1996):In a seven-to-one vote—Scalia was the only dissenter; Clarence Thomas recused himself—the Court ruled against the Virginia Military Institute’s policy of admitting only men.
If it were impossible for individual human beings (or groups of human beings) to act autonomously in effective pursuit of a common goal, the game of soccer would not exist.
Morrison v. Olson (1988):The Court voted to uphold the Independent Counsel Act; Scalia was the only dissenter.
Frequently an issue of this sort will come before the Court clad, so to speak, in sheep’s clothing: the potential of the asserted principle to effect important change in the equilibrium of power is not immediately evident, and must be discerned by a careful and perceptive analysis. But this wolf comes as a wolf.
Edwards v. Aguillard (1987):The Court ruled that creationism should not be allowed to be taught in public schools alongside evolution.
He may have thought the bill would provide jobs for his district, or may have wanted to make amends with a faction of his party he had alienated on another vote, or he may have been a close friend of the bill’s sponsor, or he may have been repaying a favor he owed the majority leader, or he may have hoped the Governor would appreciate his vote and make a fund-raising appearance for him, or he may have been pressured to vote for a bill he disliked by a wealthy contributor or by a flood of constituent mail, or he may have been seeking favorable publicity, or he may have been reluctant to hurt the feelings of a loyal staff member who worked on the bill, or he may have been settling an old score with a legislator who opposed the bill, or he may have been mad at his wife, who opposed the bill, or he may have been intoxicated and utterly unmotivated when the vote was called, or he may have accidentally voted “yes” instead of “no,” or, of course, he may have had (and very likely did have) a combination of some of the above and many other motivations. To look for the sole purpose of even a single legislator is probably to look for something that does not exist.
“Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible.”—G. Orwell
During the operation, in spite of the pain it occasioned, my senses were preternaturally acute
Few were able to put it into words. Among those who did was Professor George Wilson. In 1843, he underwent a Syme amputation — ankle disarticulation — performed by the great surgeon James Syme himself. Four years later, when opponents of anesthetic agents attempted to dismiss them as “needless luxuries,” Wilson felt obliged to pen a description of his experience:
The horror of great darkness, and the sense of desertion by God and man, bordering close on despair, which swept through my mind and overwhelmed my heart, I can never forget, however gladly I would do so. During the operation, in spite of the pain it occasioned, my senses were preternaturally acute, as I have been told they generally are in patients in such circumstances. I still recall with unwelcome vividness the spreading out of the instruments: the twisting of the tourniquet: the first incision: the fingering of the sawed bone: the sponge pressed on the flap: the tying of the blood-vessels: the stitching of the skin: the bloody dismembered limb lying on the floor.
(Liston operated so fast that he once accidentally amputated an assistant’s fingers along with a patient’s leg, according to Hollingham. The patient and the assistant both died of sepsis, and a spectator reportedly died of shock, resulting in the only known procedure with a 300% mortality.)
“In fact the threat of that man with the stick permeates our world at every moment; most of us
have given up even thinking of crossing the innumerable lines and barriers he creates, just so we don’t have to remind ourselves of his existence. If you see a hungry woman standing several yards away from a huge pile of food—a daily occurrence for most of us who live in cities—there is a reason you can’t just take some and give it to her. A man with a big stick will come and very likely hit you. Anarchists, in contrast, have always delighted in reminding us of him. Residents of the squatter community of Christiana, Denmark, for example, have a Christmastide ritual where they dress in Santa suits, take toys from department stores and distribute them to children on the street, partly just so everyone can relish the images of the cops beating down Santa and snatching the toys back from crying children.”—David Graeber
The Bureau of Prisons has offered courses on Hitler
Some prisoners pass their time praying, meditating or talking to themselves. Some read voraciously, though often they’re limited to only a few books a month. Some take whatever enrichment classes are broadcast over their TVs. The Bureau of Prisons has offered courses on Hitler, Sparta, Animals of the World, Legends of the Silver Screen and Robert E. Lee and his High Command.
Out of limited supplies, prisoners create art. They lodge bits of sponges into ballpoint cartridges to make paintbrushes. For paint, they mix water with Nescafe grinds or dye from candy they can buy from the commissary. M&Ms – plain, not peanut – work best. For deep reds, they fold red dye in with ground powder from vitamins. Navy blue takes a three-step process mixing royal blue candy coating with blue and black ink from pens. The color purple is best achieved from Skittles.
Prisoners strike up relationships with the critters that crawl in through their air vents. One man used his own hairs to try to repair a moth’s injured wing in hopes of facilitating its escape. Mohammed Saleh — convicted of having co-conspired in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing — lost his daily hour of outdoor recreation for three months at ADX because he saved bread crumbs to feed blackbirds in his exercise pen.
“Obama fielded a facetious question from then-CEO Eric Schmidt: “What is the most efficient way to sort a million 32-bit integers?” Schmidt was having a bit of fun, but before he could move on to a real question, Obama stopped him. “Well, I think the bubble sort would be the wrong way to go,” he said—correctly. Schmidt put his hand to his forehead in disbelief, and the room erupted in raucous applause.”—
North Korea commemorated the hundredth anniversary of Great Leader Kim Il Sung’s birth by unveiling a new portrait of Dear Leader Kim Jong Il, formally naming new leader Kim Jong Un as head of the National Defense Commission, and launching a long-range rocket bearing a satellite called Bright Shining Star. The rocket, which was estimated to have cost the equivalent of six years’ worth of food for North Korea’s 24 million citizens, flew for one minute before disintegrating over the Yellow Sea. “This stuff is really hard to do,” said a theoretical physicist not involved with the launch. Hours after the rocket’s failure, Kim Jong Un laughed with commanders at his first public speech, where he unveiled another, possibly fake, missile and called the strengthening of the military his “first, second, and third” priorities. A tour guide inadvertently drove a busload of foreign reporters, invited for the centenary celebrations, into a Pyongyang slum. “I hope that the journalists present here report only the absolute truth,” said one chaperone.