Sunday, 4 April 2010

A Sad Justice

“What really for me marks a conservative judge is one who doesn’t decide more than he has to in order to do his own job. Our job is to decide cases and resolve controversies. It’s not to write broad rules that may answer society’s questions at large.”
Thus spake Justice John Paul Stevens of the U.S. Supreme Court on the eve of his retirement from the bench.

What a fool. What a waste. What an ass.

A few pages later, under the heading “School Law Clinics Face a Backlash”, the same New York Times reported how, after these clinics “go after powerful interests, lawmakers get involved”:
Law school students nationwide are facing growing attacks in the courts and legislature as legal clinics at the school increasingly take on powerful interests that few other nonprofit groups have the resources to challenge.

On Friday, lawmakers [in Maryland] debated a measure to cut money for the University of Maryland's law clinic if it does not provide details to the legislature about its clients, finances and cases.

The measure, which is likely to be sent to the governor this week, comes in response to a suit filed in March by students accusing one of the state’s largest employers, Perdue, of environmental violations.
Yet, the man who sat on the bench of the Supreme Court for 35 years, deciding matters of life and death – of individuals, communities, societies, customs and habits – sees his role as that of a clerk and a referee, of merely “resolving controversies” and not “writing broad rules that may answer society’s questions at large”.

Another simpleton who scorns “social engineering”.

I am the clerk. I am the scribe, not understanding what I hear, not knowing what I write.

What explains this mentality – this limiting quality, really?

The answer is the absence of self-criticism, that not “watching oneself”. “To the extent that I look back at earlier situations,” the judge told the Times, “I really don’t think I’ve changed all that much.”

John Berger, in his masterful novel on the exposition of art, A Painter of Our Time, writes:
[A]genius ... watches himself. That is the largest part of his technique, and it is what separates him from others. We all forget continually. The genius, because he watches himself, remembers. He naively remembers his dreams, he ruthlessly remembers his real experiences, and gradually, very gradually, he learns to remember the exact nature of his mistakes and successes as a man applying paint to a flat surface. And so he recognizes what others have felt but never known. Technique and genius are nothing more nor less than that recognitions.
The point here is not to criticize an old clerk; merely to emphasize the importance of being continually self-critical. Such vigilance gradually brings about a broader comprehension of events; we see how they all are connected.

That stage of comprehension is the material basis of a theory that is no longer an intellectual pursuit or a parlor game but a weapon.