Ethical Quote Of The Week: Justice Amy Coney Barrett

Does (a decision) read like something that was purely results driven and designed to impose the policy preferences of the majority, or does this read like it actually is an honest effort and persuasive effort, even if one you ultimately don’t agree with, to determine what the Constitution and precedent requires?”

—-Justice Amy Coney Bryant during remarks at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, explaining how Supreme Court decisions should be judged and assessed.

She predicated that advice with the recommendation, “Read the opinion.” Of course, most Supreme Court critics, even those writing op-ed critiques, often don’t bother to read SCOTUS opinions. The public almost never does, and the vast majority of the public is inadequately educated to understand the opinions if they did read them. Its so much easier to treat holdings that clash with one’s politic preferences as politically-driven positions rather than carefully worked out exercises in law, history and balancing of rights and interests.

She added,

Americans should judge the court — or any federal court — by its reasoning, Is its reasoning that of a political or legislative body, or is its reasoning judicial?

Going through law school, if nothing else, will teach one to not only read Supreme Court opinions, but to appreciate them. The best  are fascinating: extremely sharp minds showing the process of their thinking involving challenging problems Many are extremely well written; some, like the late Justice Scalia’s opinions and especially his dissents, are also entertaining.

Anyone who won’t or can’t read the full opinion in a Supreme Court case has no business complaining about it or rendering any opinion whatsoever. When someone on Facebook or elsewhere starts ranting about a controversial holding, I always ask, “Have you read the opinion?” Usually this is followed by “Huminahuminahumina…well <cough>I skimmed it,” which is a lie: you can’t “skim”  SCOTUS opinions. They are intended to be read as carefully as they were written.

They sad fact is that most of the time the critics don’t want to read the opinion. They just want to join their friends in a pre-determined political position. That’s so much easier.

8 thoughts on “Ethical Quote Of The Week: Justice Amy Coney Barrett

  1. The zinger came when a Margaret Atwood wannabe tried to disrupt her speech. She said, “As a mother of seven, I’m used to distractions,” Barrett said about the short disturbance. “And outbursts.”

    Nicely done.


  2. Of course they don’t read them. They also don’t read most other things beyond the headline or a Twitter blurb. Reading things takes time, it takes effort, and it takes thinking. The left is an interested in any of those things. They’re just interested in imposing their view on everyone else. They found it’s pretty easy too, just get a slogan that is impossible to argue with and a mob, and you can do pretty much anything.

    As far as the left is concerned, Amy Coney Barrett should not even be on the Supreme Court, and neither should Brett Kavanaugh, and neither should Neil Gorsuch. As far as they are concerned, Neil Gorsuch occupies a stolen seat, and has such, anything the Supreme Court does going forward is illegitimate, and everything it does will be a legitimate until such time as these justices are off the court and replaced by Democrat appointees. As far as they are concerned, the last five Republican appointees were all confirmed by a Senate majority who did not represent a majority of the people in this country so anything this court does is doubly illegitimate. That’s all I need. Anything that might be written in a decision is just window dressing.

    Honest effort? Persuasive effort? As far as the left is concerned, none of that matters. This isn’t 8th grade math class where you have to show the teacher how you got to the answer you got. The only thing that matters is that you reach the right result, and you just have to look to the position of Democratic party to know what that result should be. If you choose to deviate, has Chuck Schumer said during a recent speech, then the Democratic party is going to be coming for you. Okay, maybe packing the court hasn’t caught on yet, but today’s ridiculous idea is tomorrow’s majority opinion. Determined people usually eventually get their way, and the left is about as determined as anyone ever was in history. No matter what some woman who shouldn’t be on the court and who should have maybe four or five less children says, the left is going to keep pushing and make sure that arc of history bends towards justice, their version of justice of course.

  3. Jack wrote:

    They sad fact is that most of the time the critics don’t want to read the opinion. They just want to join their friends in a pre-determined political position. That’s so much easier.

    Not only is it much easier, it allows said critics to service their ends much better. Why take the time to carefully read an opinion that it is your literal job to attack or trumpet, no matter what it says? At least by claiming to “skim” the opinion, you can always claim the benefit of TL;DR, or “I’m not a lawyer.” They may be unethical rationalizations, but most of the public will accept them because it’s much less time-consuming than the alternative.

    Most opinion opposing or defending supreme court decisions, particularly by the editorialists and decision writers, are written from a purely partisan perspective. Even former judges and “Constitutional scholars” spend more time attempting to vindicate a partisan or personal position rather than carefully examining the reasoning of a decision. Almost none bother to examine whether or not their own perceptions of the issues at stake might require revision, or at least reconsideration.

    Which brings us to the root of the problem — appeals to emotion are almost always more persuasive to the majority of our population than a carefully reasoned argument. Part of that is because rational thought is no longer taught to most Americans. It has become like Latin — dead but for occasional use in a few esoteric professions most people think they lack the intellectual acumen to aspire to rather than a backbone principle of human intellectual engagement since the days of Socrates. The other part is a rational argument requires more time and care to prepare well, and in today’s world, anything that takes more than ten minutes of attention usually never gets any attention at all.

    In the end, when your objective is to argue from a partisan position, appeals to emotion are almost always more successful, and to your point, they are far easier than digging into the often arcane text of a decision and examining its rationality. Not only is it easier to appeal to emotion, but it is more engaging to the reader, and more likely to produce a strong reaction that services the agenda of the writer.

    The public’s rejection of rationality in the last 20 years or so of our history has fundamentally altered our country, and has been used to argue that the Supreme Court is little more than a super-legislature that desperately needs reformation. Both major parties are guilty of shepherding this kind of shallow attack through to the public, and now when Supreme Court justices explain how wrong this thinking (or lack thereof) is, the prevailing argument claims they are just being deceptive.

  4. I told my two sisters a couple of weeks ago to not believe anything their preferred media source says about any SCOTUS ruling but to go straight to the source and read the thing themselves. They will find that media – all media – skews the opinion to fit their specific narrative and it further divides the electorate.

    The Masterpiece Bakery ruling is a good example. Liberals were told that it meant SCOTUS said that people could discriminate against gays (which it didn’t) and conservatives were told that people were allowed to use their consciences to determine what they could sell to whom (which it also did not).

  5. “The public almost never does, and the vast majority of the public is inadequately educated to understand the opinions if they did read them.”

    In my experience, SCOTUS decisions are actually more approachable than your average bench decision, so if you’re going to start somewhere it might as well be there. I think that the justices do that on purpose, because they know they’re going to be read by all kinds of lay readers so they try to give them at least a fighting chance.

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