May 31, 2009

Confirmation Bias

“The seeking or interpreting of evidence in ways that are partial to existing beliefs, expectations, or a hypothesis in hand”

In other words, confirmation bias is the mental filtering of data to allow into one’s brain only that which confirms that which one already believes. Is this a sin for which you are guilty?

Anecdote, specious reasoning and the massaging of words into alien definitions are the hallmarks of pseudoscientists, religionists and politicians. With a little manipulation and constant repetition, just about anything appear to be the truth. This phenomenon was observed by psychologist John Mackay, who wrote about it in his landmark 1852 text, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

“When men wish to construct or support a theory, how they torture facts into their service!”

Concepts and constructs are sometimes created innocently in attempts to describe a particular perception of reality. Take for instance such simple words as liberal and conservative. Others that come to mind are patriot, and hero. These are words in our language that are often misconstrued and abused. They are “hot button” words, which bring differing levels of emotion to the surface in individuals.

In this venue you have seen me torture words in an attempt to deconstruct some of the mythologies our society has built around otherwise simple constructs. Most recently, and only because the conservatives have all but captured the airwaves, I’ve taken to picking on those arguments. The conservative movement is part and parcel with the religious right, so I tend to pick at that part of the spectrum as well. Regardless, just because that side of the political spectrum is my current target does not give the other side a pass. A wingnut is a wingnut, regardless of side, and misspent verbiage is painful regardless of mouthpiece.

There is an obvious difference between impartially evaluating evidence in order to come to an unbiased conclusion and building a case to justify a conclusion already drawn. The scientist represents the first instance, in that science seeks evidence on all sides of a question, evaluates it objectively, and draws a conclusion based upon evidence. Religionists and politicians more often represent the second side of this equation. These folk, using predetermined criteria, gather and give unwarranted weight to only that evidence which supports the searcher’s position. This second phenomenon is called confirmation bias, and the searcher, although their action is purposeful, is often unaware of the action. There are, however, those who practice this with full knowledge and intent.

Purposeful confirmation bias is known as case building, and may be illustrated by what attorneys and politicians do. An attorney's job is to make a case for one side of a legal dispute. A prosecutor tries to gather and present evidence in support of the contention that a crime has been committed, while a defense attorney will present evidence supporting the presumption of innocence. Neither side has much to really win or lose, and neither is committed to an unbiased weighing of all the evidence at hand. Each is motivated only to confirm a particular position. Politicians also give undue attention to arguments that support their position. When a politician points to counterargument, it is only to point to weakness.

Confirmation bias connotes a less explicit process of case building. It refers usually to unwitting selectivity in the acquisition and use of evidence. The line between deliberate selectivity in the use of evidence and unwitting molding of facts to fit hypotheses or beliefs is a difficult one to draw in practice, but the distinction is meaningful conceptually, and confirmation bias has more to do with the latter than with the former. The assumption that people can and do engage in case-building unwittingly, without intending to treat evidence in a biased way or even being aware of doing so, is fundamental to the concept.

From The Onion comes this timely little piece, and the following video clip illustrates confirmation bias.

Over the past few days I have spent a great deal of time reading the various blogs as the various sides dissect President Obama’s SCOTUS nominee. In at least a few instances I’ve posted comments to offer some counter to an unreasonable argument. What I have found is that the most conservative of these blogs tend to filter, or moderate comments, and in two instances my comments were never posted.

I leave it to you, gentle reader, to determine just what this represents, and I would love to read your comments. My blog is uncensored and your message will go live as soon as you push the button, so speak your mind.


May 29, 2009

Do you love your kids?

There are a couple of interesting blog posts I’d like to recommend. One actually leads to the other.

Ambulance Driver is a friend of mine from somewhere south of the coonass line. He is a fair smart fellow with a heart bigger than his rather plump ass, and he has a young daughter by the name of KatyBeth who I dearly love. She calls me Uncle Donn and it breaks my crusty old heart. AD, despite his other shortcomings, makes a damn fine daddy for my darling KatyBeth. I’d find someone to help me whip his ass if he wasn’t. Maybe several sombodies.

I read AD’s blog pretty regular, and today I found a few day old post about someone else who loves her children. Archangel and Mrs. Archangel are in the midst of an international battle to regain her children. AD is asking that his readers pay a visit to their blog and look at the story. They are trying to raise money to pay the ever-mounting expenses of fighting the legal battle, but they aren’t standing on a corner with begging. Instead they are offering you value for your buck. These folks are right fair cooks. Maybe not as good as ol’ Mule Breath [blush], but still right fair. And they are offering something I would never offer. Their secret recipes.

Please pay a visit to Archangel’s blog and read the offer. The cookbook will be chuck full of finely crafted recipes sure to please, and the price should be twice what they are offering. I'm so certain that you will enjoy this book that I will offer you a double-your-money-back guarantee.

They need the sales… NOW folks… so please visit the blog, preorder a book and offer some support for good people trying to do the right thing for their children.


May 24, 2009

Memorial Day

It had been on my mind to write a bit on the reasons for the day. Others have done such a fine job of the task that I feel compelled to simply turn to them for my message.

Ruth, over at Cab Drollery, has written in commemoration of our soldiers, airmen and sailors. Ruth is a sixtyish young lady from Sherman, Texas, and has seen several wars go by. Her message, titled Memorial To Something Worthwhile, is a prayer for reason, and for making the lives and deaths of our troops worthwhile.

Ken Taylor of Minority Report writes The Last Full Measure Of Devotion. Ken laments that there is "nothing that we say can bring them back nor honor them in the fullest extent that they so justifiably deserve." It can't be said any more clear.

Old NFO, a Viet Nam vet, posts something a little unusual for this modern war, and something the youngsters amongst us may not remember. But I remember. Bob Hope brought a little taste of home to servicemen and women across the globe for decades.

Andrew Sullivan posts Two Memorial Day Stories on The Daily Dish that will make you think.

One of hardest hitting is a story from the daily paper of State College, Pennsylvania. This morning the Centre Daily Times published the story of the lost life of a soldier in Viet Nam in 1969. 21-year old Dale Fisher was killed by friendly fire when he shouldn't have even been on the front. The story, titled Life Interrupted, is told by the fallen soldier's sister.

Those who serve and put their lives in the line of fire to protect the lives and liberties of Americans deserve praise and honor. These men and women deserve much more than this country has given. At the very least we must honor their memories on Memorial day. Remember the reason for the day.

May 19, 2009

Lessons Learned

A major rallying cry by the right wing is the struggle against gun control. Over a decade past the Democrats lost congress due in part to the insistence of suburban Democrats to enact tough gun control legislation, and the disinclination of rural Dems to buck the party. This cost them in subsequent elections. It is likely, considering the close margin by which Bush 43 won the 2000 election, that Al Gore sunk his own Presidential hopes when he embraced the resurrection of Clinton era gun control legislation.

Now, thanks in large part to the excesses of the previous administration, Democrats again hold the White House and both chambers. The backlash against the Bush administration’s assaults on Constitutional liberties played a large part in the sea change, but there was more to it. Democrats, it seems, have learned a lesson.

In a Senate vote last week, a bill permitting concealed handgun license holders to carry in national parks passed when 27 Democrats crossed the aisle to vote with the Republicans. This week will bring even more change when the same Democrats take a giant first step toward overturning Democrat promoted legislation passed during the gun control heyday of 1994. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee members are this week expected to pass the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act out of committee. The bill, co-sponsored by Virginia Democrat Jim Webb and North Carolina Republican Richard Burr, will then go to a floor vote where it is likely to pass with only minor opposition.

Today’s Democratic Party is not your father’s Democratic Party. Big city Dems remain stuck in the mire of the past decade, so they may continue fighting for gun control and against the Blue Dogs who have stepped out of line (see article on Kirsten Gillibrand), but the hardheads are in the minority and their gun control views will be marginalized by more reasonable Dems.

UPDATED May 21, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a stinging defeat for gun-control advocates, Congress has voted to allow people to carry loaded guns in national parks and wildlife refuges.

The House approved the measure, 279-147, on Wednesday, one day after the Senate acted.

A total of 105 Democrats in the House joined 174 Republicans in supporting the gun measure, which essentially restores a Bush administration policy that briefly allowed loaded guns in national parks earlier this year. The measure, which is included in a bill imposing new restrictions on credit card companies, allows licensed gun owners to bring firearms into national parks and wildlife refuges as long as they are allowed by state law.


From MacPaper Today

This just in:

An Ohio man called 911 after getting in a fight with his adult son over a messy bedroom, The Plain Dealer reports.

Now the father, Andrew Mizsak, 63, says he "overreacted" and has declined to press charges against his 28-year-old son, also named Andrew.

The younger Mizsak is a member of the Bedford School Board, in a Cleveland suburb, and lives in a room in his father's basement.

The newspaper says that during the argument late last week, the son threw a plate of food across the kitchen table and made a fist at his father, prompting him to call police.

According to a police report, the newspaper says, the younger Andrew later agreed that he was lucky to live rent free in the house and was sent to clean up his room.

"He was crying uncontrollably and stated he would comply," the police report says.


May 17, 2009

Do you think you could?

The quote from Jesse Ventura is now Internet legend.
"You give me a waterboard, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I'll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders."

Many of the conservative bloggers and pundits have rushed to Dick's rescue, all saying the same thing Dick & Company have said all along; that waterboarding isn't all that bad.

Judging by the fact that this country has executed some folks who practiced that particular little "enhanced interrogation" technique on Americans, I'd have to say that Cheney's interpretation is rather novel.
Now comes this little ditty, from Playboy of all places.

This is not something I would attempt, but I would challenge those defending Cheney & Company to give it a run. Any takers?

May 15, 2009

Taliban Humor ala Jay Leno

One of the right wingnut blogs I read (and enjoy) is written by a fellow I consider to be pretty reasonable… even if his blogstuff doesn’t always show it. Today he posted a blurb sent to him by one of our soldiers serving in Afghanistan. Some of my more left leaning readers may find it over the edge, but to me it shows that even in the worst of circumstances… some humor can be found.

Hat Tip to Old NFO over at NOBODY ASKED ME.


1. You refine heroin for a living, but you have a moral objection to beer.

2. You own a $3,000 machine gun and $5,000 rocket launcher, but you can't afford shoes.

3. You have more wives than teeth.

4. You wipe your butt with your bare hand, but consider bacon "unclean."

5. You think vests come in two styles: bullet-proof and suicide.

6. You can't think of anyone you haven't declared Jihad against.

7. You consider television dangerous, but routinely carry explosives in your clothing.

8. You were amazed to discover that cell phones have uses other than setting off roadside bombs.

9. You have nothing against women and think every man should own at least one.

10. You've always had a crush on your neighbor's goat.

I omitted one that even I thought was a bit much (correct or not), so if you want to read the whole thing, cruise over to NFO’s blog.

May 14, 2009

Humor Break for my Libertarian Pals

This was sent to me by a very left leaning buddy of mine. As you can see from the Political Spectrum Quiz (over there on the right of the page), my political philosophy s center, social libertarian. My buddy thought I'd get a laugh out of the video... and he was right. Maybe you will too...


Rags & Mags vs Bits & Bytes

Richard Davis, a political science professor at BYU, has authored the book Typing Politics – the Role of Blogs in American Politics. In the book Davis relates the not-too-surprising results of a survey. A larger percentage of average Americans who read both blogs and print newspapers consider the blogs more accurate and informative than the rags. From another survey of more than 200 political reporters, Davis found that the ink jockeys feel the same as the general public, and that many use blogs for source information.

Davis seems to have ferreted out some interesting trends, too. He says that even the more conservative word-slingers spend a greater amount of time reading, and take more source information from, the liberal blogs... even though there is equal or greater awareness of the conservative blogs.

"...more journalists know about Michelle Malkin than Talking Points. Yet twice as many journalists actually read Talking Points than read Michelle Malkin"

Dinosaur that I am, I still read my newspapers. Withdrawal symptoms occur if I go more than a day without my Fort Worth Startlegram, and I’ll pick up a copy of the Dallas Morning News if I’m ever in their service area. I hate MacPaper, so when I travel I always get out early and find the local rag to peruse over breakfast. But when I'm at home I spend time reading a variety of rags in their cyber versions and I’ll spend way too much time reading from what has grown to be a huge list of news and political blogs.

Below is my list of conservative political blogs, some that I read daily and others I visit less often. This seems to cover the right side of the spectrum rather well, representing libertarian to moderate to wingnut. Does anyone have a recommendation for list additions?

Glenn Reynolds (InstaPundit)

Michelle Malkin and her other site, Hot Air

Andrew Sullivan (Daily Dish)

Pam Geller (Atlas Shrugs)

James Joyner (Outside the Beltway)

Drudge Report

Hugh Hewitt

Gary Becker / Richard Posner

Donald Luskin (The Conspiracy to keep you Poor and Stupid)

Rick Moran (Right Wing Nuthouse) and (American Thinker)

Little Green Footballs

Red State

Dana Pico (Common Sense Political Thought)

Bill Dupray (Patriot Room)

John Cole (Balloon Juice)

Tom Maguire (Just One Minute)

Megan McArdle (Asymmetrical Information)

The Ace of Spades

Conservatism Today



Cox & Forkum

Bruce McQueen (Q & O)

The Volokh Conspiracy)

John Hawkins (Right Wing News)

John Hinderaker / Scott Johnson / Paul Mirengoff (Powerline)

Urban Conservative


May 13, 2009

Being Seriously Hard on Dick

MoDo is letting it all hang out. In a piece published yesterday in the New York Times, Dowd pulls out all the record books and does some serious paint blistering. Pointing to Cheney’s responses Sunday in a televised interview with Bob Schieffer, where he continues defending the indefensible, Dowd comments…

“Cheney has replaced Sarah Palin as Rogue Diva. Just as Jeb Bush and other Republicans are trying to get kinder and gentler, Cheney has popped out of his dungeon, scary organ music blaring, to carry on his nasty campaign of fear and loathing.

The man who never talked is now the man who won’t shut up. The man who wouldn’t list his office in the federal jobs directory, who had the vice president’s residence blocked on Google Earth, who went to the Supreme Court to keep from revealing which energy executives helped him write the nation’s energy policy, is now endlessly yelping about how President Obama is holding back documents that should be made public.”

TIME Magazine’s Michael Duffy is just as hard on Dick as MoDo, but couches it in somewhat less abrasive terms.

“In any case, Cheney's reappearance delights Democrats — "Bring it on!" quipped a White House official Tuesday afternoon when asked about Cheney's re-emergence — and dismayed Republicans. Said one: "We're trying to turn the page and he's climbing out of the grave to haunt us."

Yep, just like a bunch of the wingnutty babble one hears these days, Cheney is showing us how the neoconservatives have blinded themselves to the truth. They are hypocrites, and Cheney is the current hypocrite in chief.

My conservative friend has pointed to journalism such as this as being the reason for the demise of the print media. By taking anti-neocon positions, he says, the rags and mags are greasing the pole to their own doom. Perhaps so, but I think not. Just because you do not like the truth does not make it any less truthful.

May 11, 2009

What’s a Poor Pachyderm to do?

The Party of Hoover seems to be suffering one setback followed by another… followed by yet another. First it was Congress lost to the lefties, then the White House, next came Arlen Specter’s defection, and now this from TIME Magazine:

“ … he's quitting the party — and he's the bull's-eye of its target audience. But he also said he wouldn't support any cuts in defense, Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid — which, along with debt payments, would put more than two-thirds of the budget off limits.”

Some other things he has said since first thrusting himself on an unsuspecting nation were also quite enlightening. Like the time in a debate when he answered a question about the news media by stating, “I think media should be abolished from, uh, you know, reporting.” Or when he waxed philosophic in a discussion of First Amendment freedom of speech rights, observing that “back in the day, really, when people would talk about our military in a poor way, somebody would shoot ‘em. And there’d be nothing said about that.”

He's got a million of 'em folks...

Yep, TIME Magazine reporter Michael Grunwald has the scoop of the decade. Samuel Wurzelbacher, faux plumber turned war correspondent, turned author, turned public speaker, turned economic advisor, scion of the Ultra Right, and avowed gay basher, is bailing on his homeboys.

This little tidbit is but a small portion of a good article. Grunwald hits a home run.


Wish I had seen this before posting. It fits so well.


May 10, 2009

Dark Horse

Over the past several days, every pundit and blogger under the Sun has offered an opinion on the possible list of candidates to replace Justice David Souter upon his retirement. When Souter’s decision was first announced, I posited that the candidate with the highest likelihood of appointment would be Appeals Court judge Sonia Sotomayor, and she seems to have been elevated to the top ranking… at least by the pundits. Also mentioned as high on the list were Diane Wood, another Appeals Court judge, and recently confirmed Solicitor General, Elena Kagan.

Most of the political blogs and major news outlets agree that the next Justice of the Supreme Court will be female, and there is an equally high probability that the candidate will not be Caucasian. Since it is my belief that Obama wants to make a real and lasting difference on the Court, I have suggested that the nominee will also be quite young. Using these filters (gender, ethnicity and age), all of the candidates mentioned above could potentially be eliminated. All are female, but each fails the test on either age or ethnicity.

A potential though not often mentioned possibility is Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme court, Leah Ward Sears. Chief Justice Sears was the first black woman to serve as a Superior Court Justice in Georgia, and when appointed (by Democrat Gov. Zell Miller) in 1992, she was the youngest person and the first woman ever to serve on Georgia's Supreme Court. She later became the first woman to win a contested state-wide judicial election. Since then Sears has won many elections, all bitterly contested.

Curriculum Vitae

Sears graduated from Cornell in 1976 and went on to Emory University and the University of Virginia Law Schools. She has engaged in extensive studies at the National Judicial College. Prior to her first judgeship, she was an attorney with the prestigious Atlanta law firm, Alston & Bird.

In her career Sears chaired the American Bar Association's Board of Elections, the Judicial Section Committee for the Atlanta Bar Association, and the Atlanta Bar's Minority Clerkship Program. She founded and served as the first president of the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys, and founded the Battered Women's Project in Columbus, Georgia.

Justice Sears currently serves on the Board for Morehouse School of Medicine - Center for Child Abuse & Neglect. She sits on boards for the Visitors of Mercer Law School, the Sadie G. Mays Nursing Home, the Georgia Chapter of the National Council of Christians and Jews, Atlanta’s Mission New Hope substance abuse prevention and recovery organization, Cornell University Women's Council, the steering Committee for Georgia Women's History Month, and the Children's Defense Fund's Black Community Crusade for Children. She was named as one of five finalists for dean of the University of Maryland School of Law, but later withdrew her name from consideration due to her many obligations in the Atlanta area.

Following a very divisive 2004 election, an interesting article appeared in the Christian Science Monitor illustrating many fine qualities possessed by Justice Sears. The same article made mention of the strong opposition efforts by Republicans and right wing religious activists. Upon election to head the court, even Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue would not attend Sears’ inauguration, but neither did many of her supporters. Perdue was a staunch opponent of Sears, so it makes some sense that he would find some way to show his displeasure, but one must wonder at the absence of her fellow civil rights advocates.

The reason may be found in her special, invited guest; Supreme Court Justice and childhood friend Clarence Thomas. Thomas is currently lending his support, and has said publically that he would be very glad to see Sears in the nation’s highest court. The Thomas offer of support may actually do harm to Justice Sears’ hopes for elevation to the Supreme Court, for the same reason her friends and allies avoided her inauguration.

Sotomayor Still on Top

Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears has served on the Georgia Supreme Court for 17 years and has stated that she will step down at the end of the 2009 session. We will have to wait and see what happens next. Over the next four (or eight) years, Obama is likely to face this process two… or possibly three more times, so he may not let age stand in the way. Ethnicity is another thing, as I feel the President wants to ensure better balance on the Court sooner rather than later.

For this reason, Sotomayor remains ranked as top of the field. Kagen, however, who is only 49 years old, will very likely be on the highest bench of the land before Obama leaves office… and Justice Sears will, at the very least, find her name in the hat again.

May 6, 2009

Ought to be an Interesting Contest...

Louisiana seems to have the most entertaining politicians.

She certainly wouldn't be the first whore in the Senate.

May 5, 2009

Why I wasn’t Worried about Obama and the Gun Control Argument

It’s a short story, and a *really* primitive web page, but it is just another brick in the wall. Democrats really like being in charge, and they’ve learned that gun control is the poison pill. Everything else in their platform is palatable, but gun control kills. Argue as you may, but Obama was a better choice than McCain, and the gun control hysteria raised in an effort to whip him are weak. Conservatives should focus more on the preservation of the First Amendment than they do currently on Second Amendment fear tactics. Dominionist religious zealots present a greater threat to our constitution than liberals ever have.

From Idaho with love...

Idaho's Lone Congressional Democrat Talks Gun Control

Ammunition is selling so fast, local gun shops are having a hard time keeping it stocked for gun owners. Much of it is being attributed to fears that the Obama Administration and democrat-led Congress will enact strict new gun laws. Democratic First District Congressman Walt Minnick says there's no possibility any gun control measures will be passed in the current U.S. Congress. Minnick says he's one of 52 conservative ``blue dog'' Democrats in the House who oppose further gun control and that nothing can pass the House without their support.


May 4, 2009

Breath Within - a Legend turns 90

I missed Pete Seeger’s birthday yesterday. Shame on me. Pete turned 90, and is still playing strong.


When my songs turn to ashes on my tongue,
When I look in the mirror and see I'm no longer young,
Then I got to start the job of separating false from true,
And then I know, I know I need the love of you.

When I found tarnish on some of my brightest dreams,
When some folks I trusted turned out not quite what they seemed;
Then I got to start the job of separating false from true,
Then once more I know, I know I need the love of you.

No song I can sing will make Governor Wallace change his mind,
No song I can sing will take the gun from a hate-filled man;
But I promise you, and you, brothers and sisters of evry skin,
I'll sing your story while I've breath within.

We got to keep on keeping on, even when the sun goes down,
We got to live, live, live until another day comes 'round;
Meanwhile, better start over, separating false from true,
And more and more, I know I need the love of you

Pete with Linda Ronstadt, circa 1980 (unattributed)

Happy birthday Pete.... and many more.

May 3, 2009

Replacing David the Dissenter

Naming a new Supreme Court Justice is a solemn event. Nothing else has the potential to define a presidency any more than the task now facing President Obama. As usual when there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court, the newswires are buzzing with speculation. The right wing blogs and talk shows are trumpeting with great certainty that the nominee will be a leftist of Karl Marx porportion, while the lefties are hoping for a tree-hugging, union loving, Prius driving, cat stroking, vegan. Neither will likely realize their predictions.

Justice Souter’s decision to retire may have been a bit of a surprise, but this administration did not make it to the White House without understanding that Obama would be nominating two, likely three, and possibly four Supreme Court justices. And in spite of an overwhelming foreign and domestic agenda, President Obama could not have hoped for better timing. Regardless of selection, acrimony and a lengthy confirmation battle should be expected, but the President has the political capital to gain confirmation of whomever he names.

Richard Samp, chief counsel of the conservative Washington Legal Foundation, seems to realize this, but optimistically predicts that the right will roll over. In an interview with CQ Magazine, Samp stated that the "Republicans will do their best to talk up the issues and at the end of the day get 30 or 35 votes against, but nobody's actually going to try to block the nominee."

That, I feel, is wishful thinking. The usual suspects from the Party of “NO” are already lining up to scuttle any possibility of a reasonable confirmation process. As I noted in a previous blog, Karl Rove has already started encouraging Republicans to block any nomination, based upon ideology and regardless of qualification. Rush, Sean and the boys won’t be far behind.

My guess is that Obama will select a nominee who is moderate, but with a history of slightly left-of-center opinions. There is too much going on in the world and in this country to allow for a prolonged confirmation fight, and this administration understands that it does not need the distraction. Neither do they want to alienate potential supporters who may be needed for upcoming battles.

The only potential hang-up to an uneventful confirmation might be in the administration’s vetting process; something they’ve had a little problem with in the recent past. This is something that cannot be afforded in this nomination. Team Obama must get it right the first time.

Obama will likely pick a tried and true sitting jurist with an established track record. The pick will certainly be female, likely Hispanic or black, and probably quite young. I will be very surprised if the nominee is over 50. In the next couple of days I will look at some of the potential nominees and discuss a little of their credentials.


... Was it Worth the Price of Admission?

The award for oddest story goes to...

Couple caught having sex on Queen's lawn

And the funniest line in the story...

"The Japanese tourists were comparing their videos."

May 2, 2009

The Changing Face of the Supreme Court

Sort of appropriate for this blog to discuss the retirement of Justice David Souter. Souter’s decision comes as little surprise. He has long made it known that, although he loved the position, he disliked the City of Washington D.C. This move will allow him to retire comfortably back to his native New Hampshire.

Souter was appointed in 1990 by George H.W. Bush. He was termed a “slam dunk” by John Sununu, then White House Chief of Staff and former New Hampshire Governor. Although a lifelong Republican highly touted by conservatives, Souter soon displayed an unexpected stripe, regularly bucking Chief Justice Rehnquist by joining Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and the court’s more moderate wing. It was said that Souter was disillusioned by the bitter partisanship of Washington, and found himself repelled by the hardcore right wing dogma. As the years passed Souter became more liberal, regularly joining with another Republican turncoat, 1975 Ford appointee John Paul Stevens.

With the election of Barak Obama, Souter likely saw an opportunity to remove himself from the D.C. partisanship without taking the risk of unbalancing the court. Souter was likely heartened by then candidate Obama, who stated in an interview reported October 2, 2008 in the Detroit Free Press:

I think that Justice Souter, who was a Republican appointee, Justice Breyer, a Democratic appointee, are very sensible judges. They take a look at the facts and they try to figure out: How does the Constitution apply to these facts? They believe in fidelity to the text of the Constitution, but they also think you have to look at what is going on around you and not just ignore real life… That, I think is the kind of justice that I’m looking for — somebody who respects the law, doesn’t think that they should be making law ... but also has a sense of what’s happening in the real world and recognizes that one of the roles of the courts is to protect people who don’t have a voice

It is likely that Souter wanted out much earlier, but witnessing George W. Bush’s appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, he understood that his departure during a Republican administration would bring more of the same divisive partisanship and hardcore dogma.

Souter had witnessed the outcome of such partisanship in the past. Ronald Reagan’s appointments of Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor, and the elevation of William Rehnquist to Chief Justice guided SCOTUS into a generation-long right-of-center era. No previous president had enjoyed such opportunity to reshape judicial politics and the court membership remained unchanged from 1994 until 2005. Souter likely did not want to see such an occurrence due to his retirement.

Now Obama is poised to equal or surpass the Reagan appointments, and perhaps leave his stamp on the court for an equal length of time. Additional to Souter’s retirement, 75 year old Ruth Bader Ginsburg has recently been treated for pancreatic cancer. The likelihood that she will soon retire is quite high. 88 year old John Paul Stevens is certainly of retirement age. Anthony Kennedy is only 72 years old, but has twice suffered from cardiac problems. Antonin Scalia is a young 72, and will likely survive the Obama years… but perhaps not. The average tenure for a Supreme Courte Justice is 15 years. Seven of the nine current justices have equaled or exceeded that. If Obama is reelected in 2012, and Scalia does not retire before 2018, he will have served 33 years.

Now we are faced with the question of Obama’s direction. Will he follow the path of George W. Bush, who by appointing Roberts and Alito seemed determined to make a hard rightward push, o r will Obama follow the Clinton lead and appoint more moderate judges? Ginsberg and Breyer were known as left-leaning moderates and have maintained that moderation as justices.

If early indications are correct, moderate judge Sonia Sotomayor is running high in the rankings for President Obama’s first Supreme Court nomination. Sotomayor was first appointed to the federal bench in New York’s Sothern District by George H.W. Bush in 1992. In 1997, then President Bill Clinton nominated Sotomayor to replace J. Daniel Mahoney on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

Oddly enough, and even though her track record while serving on the federal bench showed her solidly moderate conservative, Senate Republicans held up the nomination for over a year by claiming that she was a “judicial activist.” Republicans openly fretted that confirmation to the 2nd Circuit would bring her a step closer to the Supreme Court. An anonymous Republican Senator even placed a block on the nomination. Finally, with court dockets swelling and pressure mounting from all sides, the opposition relented and Sotomayor was finally confirmed in October of 1998.

Although Sotomayor’s credentials are impeccable and she enjoys the broad base support of both political parties, it appears that her nomination will again be met with irrational resistance. This morning on FOX News, former Bush Chief of Staff Karl Rove called on conservatives to oppose the Sotomayor appointment regardless of her qualifications, calling her “more liberal than Souter.” Rove went on to grossly misrepresent her record on the 2nd Circuit. [Watch the video HERE]. I suppose when one is as far to the right as Rove, moderation must appear liberal.

Let us hope, if Sotomayor is indeed nominated, that the Senate displays more wisdom than Rove.

May 1, 2009

Obligatory H1N1 post