Horwitz on The Troubling Phenomenon of Supreme Court Justices as Celebrities

Paul Horwitz:

Usefully, Hasen emphasizes “the role of the ‘Celebrity Justice,’ a phenomenon which Devins and Baum acknowledge near the end of the book. Scalia, and later Ruth Bader Ginsburg, became rock star Justices, drawing adoring crowds who celebrate these lawyers as though they were teenagers meeting Beyoncé. If we are thinking about the psychological effects on Justices getting affirmation that they are on the right path, cult-like worship can only make the assured even surer in their convictions. This seems especially dangerous during polarized times.”


I could not agree more on this point. The Notorious RBG phenomenon (or Scalia worship) and the cult of personality and celebrity it represents, however understandable (I’m speaking here not of politics, but of Justice Ginsburg and the value of having previously under-represented role models), is bad for our already oversized view of the courts, bad for our politics, bad for the justices themselves, who hardly need further encouragement in thinking well of themselves and taking confirmation of their views from the like-minded (and who risk an increasing willingness to profit from these cults, whether personally or, as the line of Ginsburg products seems to have become, in creating a family business), and for us. I feel the same about the black-tie dinner appearances and selfie opportunities at FedSoc conferences, which may seem harmless and trivial enough to those who attend and participate in this adulatory culture but is not. While the connection between the celebrity justice phenomenon and political polarization may be clear, its connection to the idea of elite culture is perhaps less so. At a minimum, though, I might suggest that I would feel less worried about elites if they considered a fundamental characteristic and requirement of their position to be a quality of independence and maturity of mind, skepticism toward bromides and hero worship, and resistance toward consumer culture and its colonization of politics and governance. The celebrity justice phenomenon hardly contributes to those qualities; and without them, there is good reason to doubt that our “elites” will act in a way fully worthy of the positions of trust and privilege they occupy.    

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