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More McCain-Palin Supreme Court Follies

October 2, 2008

This week's revelation that Sarah Palin could not name a U.S. Supreme Court decision she opposed other than Roe v. Wade only served to confirm once again that she is the ideal running mate for John McCain. Clearly oblivious to Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson and other supreme stains on the nation, Palin reminded Americans about John McCain's furious reaction to the Court's Boumediene decision on habeas corpus rights for detainees at Guantanamo Bay. That, McCain fumed in June, was "one of the worst decisions in the history of this country."
In her responses to CBS' Katie Couric, Sarah Palin not only displayed a shocking ignorance of the Supreme Court's most tragic decisions, but repeatedly offered a states' right manta seemingly justifying many of them. But amazingly, Palin answered "I do" when Couric asked if there is "an inherent right to privacy in the Constitution." After all, the evolving right to privacy and the 14th amendment's equal protection clause were central not only to the Court's ruling in Roe, but in invalidating state laws banning contraception (Griswold, 1965), interracial marriage (Loving, 1967), gay rights (Romer, 1996) and sodomy (Lawrence, 2003). Palin's evident confusion on privacy rights seemed to suggest she supported two generations of Supreme Court judgments she no doubt opposes.
But as the full Couric interview suggests, Palin's cognitive crisis with the Court isn't one of confusion, but instead sheer ignorance:

COURIC: What other Supreme Court decisions do you disagree with?
PALIN: Well, let's see. There's, of course in the great history of America there have been rulings, that's never going to be absolute consensus by every American. And there are those issues, again, like Roe v. Wade, where I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there. So you know, going through the history of America, there would be others but...
COURIC: Can you think of any?
PALIN: Well, I could think of...any again, that could be best dealt with on a more local level. Maybe I would take issue with. But, you know, as mayor, and then as governor and even as a vice president, if I'm so privileged to serve, wouldn't be in a position of changing those things but in supporting the law of the land as it reads today.

If Sarah Palin had no clue about national disgraces like Dred Scott and Plessy, her running mate John McCain lost all sense of perspective on them when the Court handed down its Gitmo ruling in June.
Despite his own complicity in producing the Military Commissions Act and Detainee Torture Act at the center of the Court's 5-4 ruling granting appeals for Gitmo detainees, McCain resorted to full-throttle hyperbole in hopes of making the Bush administration's detainee program a campaign issue:

"The United States Supreme Court yesterday rendered a decision which I think is one of the worst decisions in the history of this country. Sen. Graham and Sen. Lieberman and I had worked very hard to make sure that we didn't torture any prisoners, that we didn't mistreat them, that we abided by the Geneva Conventions, which applies to all prisoners."

McCain's partisan abuse of the history of the Supreme Court soon became a trusted Republican talking point. The same week as McCain's outburst, right-wing legal water carrier David Rivkin also said of Boumediene, "it's one of the worst decisions by the Supreme Court I've ever read, on par with Dred Scott decisions and Plessy v. Ferguson." Newt Gingrich went a step further, calling the habeas corpus decision, "worse than Dred Scott."
Sarah Palin's shocking misstep is just the latest episode in the sad saga of John McCain and the Supreme Court. McCain, after all, in 2006 famously reversed course on his 1999 declaration, "I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade." McCain, too, ping-ponged on his notion of the ideal Supreme Court justice, first voicing skepticism towards Samuel Alito before later offering full-throated support for him. And even as Sarah Palin claimed her opposition to abortion exceptions in cases of rape and incest was merely a "personal" opinion, John McCain sat idly by his as Republican Party ignored him and enshrined those prohibitions in the 2008 GOP platform.
No doubt, Sarah Palin's ignorance of the Supreme Court is a national embarrassment. That just makes her and John McCain two peas in a pod.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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