30 May 2007

The Power of Priestly Robes

About a month ago, Joshua Bell performed live in the subway. As arguably the premier violinist in the world, he might earn hundreds of thousands for a live performance at Carnegie Hall. The Washington Post was curious - would his performance attract attention from the rush of commuters hurrying to or from work?

The answer seems to be, no. Bell ended up with $32 in his case and most people who passed by him didn't recognize his playing as anything special. Absent the context of a concert hall and the social signals that screamed - this man is important, pay attention to him! - most people thought him rather unimportant and paid him little or no attention.

Judges know this. It is no coincidence that historians speak of the "royal court." One key to the nation-state's ascension to the point of having a monopoly on law and its interpretation was the promotion of the king's court as the true arbiters of justice.

For centuries, people have bowed their heads to the pronouncements of men in robes. It is no mystery why the Supreme Court would borrow from the wardrobe of priests and the architecture of the ancient Greeks. The trappings of ancient wisdom and revelation serve to make pronouncements that might otherwise seem arbitrary sound authoritative instead. To have 9 people at the diner counter opine about gender discrimination would lack the authority of pronouncements from an elevated dais.

The president of the U.S. decides who is worthy of Carnegie Hall performance, his utterances having the force of law, and who stays at the coffee shop diner, his utterances to be ignored by the waitress.

All that simply to say that this week's ruling by the Supreme Court would have been dismissed by any hard-working waitress with a sense of justice.

Lilly Ledbetter sued her employer, Goodyear Tire & Rubber, for gender discrimination. A jury agreed with her that her pay of $5,000 a year less than the lowest paid male peer was unfair and awarded her back pay and damages. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, disagreed, stating that litigants had to sue within 180 days of the act of discrimination. Barring the fact that this seems to ignore the obvious problem of dating a pattern of discrimination, the ruling rested on the oddest precedent.

In 1991, a bipartisan majority of Congress passed a Civil Rights Restoration Act, reversing a series of decisions made by a conservative court. Conservatives argue against activist courts, stating that the role of courts is to interpret laws passed by congress, not make law. Yet this week, the Supreme Court ruling cited as precedent the decisions reversed by Congress's 1991 law.

If only men like Samuel Alito and Antonio Scalia were normal old men, sitting at the diner counter sipping coffee between talk about how women have gone too far, their odd opinions would be something the sore-footed waitress could shake her head at. As it is, they determine how this waitress is treated. Perhaps it is time to dress the court in Bermuda shorts and polo shirts. At least then their decisions would seem more honest than utterances from men dressed like priests or ancient philosophers.

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For Slate's Richard Thompson Ford's take on this see:
The Supreme Court mixes up intending to screw over your employee and actually doing it.

19 comments:

Damon said...

I don't know much about everything you just typed, but I just heard some wonderful news....(no, Geico can't save you hundreds on your car insurance)...FRED THOMPSON is going to be a late entry into the Presidential race!!!

I'm stoked!

That guy rocks!

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18938109/

Ron Davison said...

:)
You do know that Fred Thompson isn't actually a politician - he just plays one on TV.
So, you think that Fred will be a real candidate or is he just the favored candidate until he actually comes under the scutiny of the press and competition? Why are you so excited about him?

Damon said...

Fred Thompson WAS a real senator Ron! And hey, I figure if you can't actually BE a great president, at least you should be able to ACT like one, eh!?

He's already admitted that he has a lot of "baggage" that will come out when he files to run. I admire a guy who admits up front he's a pretty flawed human.

GO FRED!!!

Ron Davison said...

"I admire a guy who admits up front he's a pretty flawed human."
Just think of how much you'd have to approve of Bush if he'd admitted up front in 2000 that he didn't have a clue about foreign policy and wasn't all that interested in learning. We seem to have gone from an unrealistic expectation that candidates be without flaw to thinking that flaws confessed are actually strengths. This, as with so many other things, just confuses me.

Damon said...

Hey, lets be honest here Ron. (as always) When we admit our weaknesses and flaws we all love, understand and connect with each other better.

It's one of the reasons I like you!

Damon said...

Oh, and yes. The court should NOT create new laws. Interpret and enforce current laws. If those laws need changing, then CHANGE them. But don't let the court do it when it has no authority to.

A rather dumb ruling you found there.

Ron Davison said...

Damon,
One, some of us needn't confess our flaws - we just type or walk around in public and our flaws are broadcast.
Two, I think it's a kick that you finally read this posting rather than just use my comments section as a means to announce Thompson's candidacy. My six regular readers (well, the one guy who once read it assured me that he'll read it again before year end, so I guess that suggests some sort of regularity) rarely come to the comments section, so it may take a while to alert America to Fred's run via this. I'm still flattered that you'd think of my blog as a forum for these announcements.
And yes, a pretty dumb ruling.

Chrlane said...

More about waitresses, huh? Thanks. You're the ONLY person who _ever_ said that to me, just so you know.

I am an ARTIST, not a waitress. And if you have no respect for the arts, then you have no brains, and you shouldn't be blogging.

Ron Davison said...

Chrlane,
last I heard, there are about 70-some million blogs. Given that it's so obviously frustrating to you to read my mindless posts, perhaps you should find more thoughtful writers out in the blogosphere. It would probably be easier for you to change your reading patterns than it would be for me to change my way of being.

Damon said...

I gotta be honest Ron, I know of no other avenue where I could vent my semi-excitement for Fred.

Please forgive.

Ron Davison said...

Damon,
I'm just glad to be here for you in your time of semi-excitement about a political issue ... even if it is misguided, at least it's political.

Chrlane said...

Yeah there are lots of blogs. How many of them are written by you, huh? I just can't get over how you can keep calling someone a "dead waitress" and "my wife", then act as though you are innocent of wrongdoing. You can't keep attacking someone, and expect them to ignore you.

Who on Earth ignores a threat to their reputation and their livelihood!? You sure as heck don't. You obviously perceive me as a threat or you wouldn't come down so hard on me to begin with. Only in your case, it is nothing but paranoia, because I never attacked you. And count yourself lucky, because any one else would have sued your sorry ass a long time ago for harassment.

Considering your low opinion of me, your campaign kind of makes you look ridiculous, no? That you could be so threatened by someone you treat so poorly? Says a lot about you as a person, that you would stoop to insult someone so far 'beneath you'.

Everybody hates you, and they only kiss your ass and agree with you for your money, and you _ask_ for it, and then you go crying they hurt your feelings. And "King" or not, I am NOT going to let you chase me off the internet.

ThomasLB said...

I've forgotten what the topic is. Next time I'll have to post first, then read what everybody else wrote.

Damon said...

Misguided? This would indicate that I am, in fact, guided. So praytell, who guides me Ron? And if I am "misguided" whom should I seek guidance from?

Dave said...

All right. I want to establish that I read the post. I scrolled to make a comment. I have to admit that I've never seen you have fourteen comments, not that you don't deserve to have that many Ron. I then had to scroll through the Thompson badanage and the other thing. The only thing I can add to Thomas's comment is the thought that I may want to re-read Alice In Wonderland. Well, here I am at the "Leave your comment" box.

I'm going to have to go read the Opinion. I'd seen the headlines and assumed it to be another boring case on statutory limitation periods. If I have any interesting thoughts that aren't about actor/senators or waitresses, I'll let you know.

Ron Davison said...

Damon & Chrlane,

I think that I'll side with Thomas on this one. I'm starting to feel like everything I say is just fodder for offense so I'll just say, "isn't this lovely spring weather?"

Chrlane said...

Oh, shut up. It's humid as heck up here.

Chrlane said...

Thomas is the one who filters all his comments and only publishes the ones that stroke his "shtick".

That makes him more of a joke than you are.

Ron Davison said...

Chrlane,
It's just inconceivable that Thomas would be so rude as to filter out comments that insult him on his own blog. Some people.