It’s a bad day for a columnist when he publishes a piece whose central argument has been thoroughly refuted a few days earlier. That’s the plight of William Raspberry, whose Washington Post column today–arguing for “balance” on the Supreme Court–collapsed before it was constructed, thanks to Keith Whittington’s NRO article last Wednesday. But let us dwell on Raspberry’s partisanship-disguised-as-moderation for a moment.
At one point in his column, Raspberry proudly recycles a couple of paragraphs from a column he wrote “more than a dozen years ago,” making the same kind of case for “balance” on the Court. The vague allusion to the age of the earlier column made me curious. Turns out the old article was published on October 30, 1992, four days before the presidential election that year. Back then he was arguing for electing Bill Clinton, on grounds that the first President Bush had made “two conservative appointments–Justices David Souter and Clarence Thomas”–and this was written about four months after Souter played a central role in one of the worst examples of liberal jurisprudence in the twentieth century, the joint opinion (with O’Connor and Kennedy) in Planned Parenthood v. Casey!
It gets worse. In today’s column, Raspberry ends his quotation from his 1992 self with this line: “Only in fairly recent times has the Supreme Court come to be viewed as part of an ideological spoils system.” Snip, end of quotation. But the next two sentences in the 1992 column–omitted in today’s self-quotation–read thus: “That is why it is tilted so far to the right today. And that is why Clinton, should he defeat Bush next Tuesday, ought to start moving it back toward the center.”
Well, Clinton sure did that, didn’t he? He gave us Ginsburg and Breyer, and not a peep was heard from Raspberry about the need for maintaining “balance” on the Court because Clinton was rebalancing it, don’t you see? So “balance” simply means this: Whatever composition of views on the Court shakes out in favor of the liberal agenda on all constitutional questions is declared to be a fine “balance.” Democratic presidents therefore have carte blanche to redress imbalances, understood as the presence of “conservatives” on the Court (like David Souter!). But whenever a Republican is elected, even or especially having run on promises to appoint certain kinds of jurists, the cry goes up from William Raspberry that the current “balance” on the Court must be maintained at all costs.
And I haven’t even gotten to his silly effort to define John Roberts as “well out of the settled mainstream.” What a tool.