The original home of the blog known as 802 Online

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Me and the chief

In an op-ed column called "Off the Bench" in last Sunday's New York Times, Dahlia Lithwick reminds readers that unlike presidential candidates, who shamelessly bare their hearts to us, Supreme Court justices remain aloof. "The Supreme Court is by far the most mysterious branch of government," writes Lithwick, "its members glimpsed only rarely, like Bigfoot, crashing through the forest at twilight. The court is the one branch that operates in near secrecy--no cameras, no tape records, no explanations, no press conferences, rare interviews, no review by other branches."

These nine adjudicators, appointed for life, have the final say on some of the most divisive issues we face. They decide the legality of the president's actions. They rule on the constitutionality of our laws. If the election of 2004 is as close as the election of 2000, they may decide the outcome. But what do we really know about them? Can you even name all nine of them? I just tried, and only got eight before I gave up and Googled them. Dahlia Lithwick calls the Supremes "the nine most powerful, secretive public officials in this land."

It's worth noting, then, that Chief Justice William Rehnquist answers the phone at his Greensboro, Vermont farmhouse, the number for which is listed in the local phone book. I called him last week to talk to him about the anti-Semitic clause in his Greensboro real estate deed. He answered my questions politely, if somewhat evasively. The brief interview is part of a story in this week's Seven Days .

His deed did, in fact, contain a clause barring the sale of the property to anyone of the "Hebrew race." You can find it for yourself on page 728 of Book P in the Greensboro town vault. He has since attempted to expunge this language from his deed.

I feel very lucky to have been able to speak with Rehnquist. Brief though our conversations have been, they've given me a renewed appreciation for Vermont. This state operates on a human scale, so much so that it has the power to humanize even our most untouchable public officials. It saddens me, though, to think that the next generation of justices, whatever their political philosophies, will likely be even less accessible.




Comments:
Yeah, and didn't Renquist call you back up and invite you out for lunch? I was jealous there for a minute.
 
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