Monday, February 19, 2007

U.S. Supreme, State Supreme, and Public Television

Over the weekend, I finished watching two documentaries on the court system. There was a nationally-produced one about the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as a local one about the Minnesota Supreme Court.

My general reaction to both documentaries is that they spend a lot of time defending against charges of judicial activism, but very little time defining the term. There is no sense of why someone might adhere to the doctrine. Instead, in the PBS documentary, the viewer is shown how conservative justices, generally (and Justice Scalia, specifically), are supposedly hypocrites on this point. The unstated conclusion is that, because one or more adherents to judicial restraint (the opposite of "activism") are allegedly inconsistent, then the entire doctrine is flawed. This theme was continued in an episode of Tim Russert's CNBC show with Supreme Court authors Jan Crawford Greenburg and Jeffrey Rosen (link: scroll down).

Similarly, the PBS documentary and Russert's show treat the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore as an undisputed outrage. They are perfectly willing to see the conservative justices as twisting the law to generate a desired outcome in the 2000 Florida ballot recount, and therefore determine the presidency, but are unwilling (except in a short comment by Rosen on the Russert show) to acknowledge that the same thing might be true for liberal justices.

Finally, there were two interesting clips on the Bush v. Gore segment of the PBS documentary. Disgraced former Congressman Mark Foley and former UN Ambassador John Bolton each make brief appearances in news clips.

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