Have you been watching Elena Kagan and some senators trade canned platitudes about The Law this week? Yeah, same here. But let's give Kagan credit for getting senators to stop comparing justices to "umpires" who call "balls and strikes."
Remember John Roberts' confirmation in 2005? It was the swiftest in recent memory. The Senate Judiciary Committee members found this handsome young man smart as hell and charismatic, to boot, while he just talked over their heads about arcane judicial things they'd never heard of, to run out the clock. Then he became the most conservative activist justice ever, but hey, he was adorable.
And his most adorable contribution to future Supreme Court confirmation hearings was his introduction of the Umpire Metaphor: that the role of a Supreme Court justice was to indifferently call "balls and strikes," as though any schmo could memorize Law for Dummies and be a great judge. This was the only thing that senators could understand during his hearing, and they've relentlessly harassed successive nominees with the same question ever since: Will you be an umpire when you're on the Supreme Court? (These hearings cost taxpayer dollars to arrange, by the way.)
But during her Q&A today, Kagan offered a nice summary of why people need to stop babbling about umpires and baseball pitches exclusively during Supreme Court confirmation hearings:
The metaphor might suggest to some people that law is a kind of robotic enterprise. That there's a kind of automatic quality to it. That it's easy. That we just sort of stand there, and we go "ball" and "strike" and everything is clear cut, and there's no judgment in the process. And I do think that that's not right, and that it's especially not right at the Supreme Court level, where the hardest cases go.
Duh. It's so obvious that a Supreme Court nominee should feel embarrassed, having to spell it out for a group of senior national legislators. So thanks for just getting it over with, Elena Kagan!
(Oh who are we kidding, this will not stop senators from using it the next time.)