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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Sarah and the Supremes

There’s been a lot of talk about the yet-to-be-released segment of the Katie Couric interview of Sarah Palin in which the Veep nominee apparently lapsed into silence when asked to name a single important Supreme Court decision other than Roe v. Wade.
In general, I’m with Atrios in noting that most politicians don’t know a whole lot about Supreme Court decisions, whether they pretend to or not. And clearly, the best response for Palin to have offered was the perennial crowd-pleaser, “I’m not a lawyer.”
But what makes her non-answer startling to me is that Supreme Court decisions are actually the one area of public policy in which Palin’s core constituency, the Christian Right, is extremely well-versed.
Any anti-abortion activist worth his or her salt knows all about Griswold v. Connecticut, the famous “penumbra” decision that first established a constitutional right to privacy, and thus provided the key precedent for Roe. They’d also know about Casey v. Planned Parenthood, the 1992 decision that reaffirmed Roe and demonstrated the eternal perfidy of Reagan appointees O’Conner and Kennedy. And more than likely, they’d be familiar with Gonzales v. Carhart, the 2007 decision that validated the federal ban on so-called partial-birth abortions, with Kennedy performing remarkably gymnastic judicial contortions in squaring the decision with Casey. And social conservatives focused on gay rights would be able to remember Lawrence v. Texas, yet another Kennedy decision, which struck down state statutes illegalizing gay sex, and scandalously (to conservatives, at least) citing international law as a relevant factor.
Beyond these recent decisions, every Republican politician knows the importance of ritually denouncing Dred Scott v. Sanford (1856) and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the first validating the Fugitive Slave Act, and the second establishing “separate but equal” racial segregation as constitutionally acceptable. This is a time-honored dog-whistle to anti-abortion activists who want to identify their cause with that of civil rights, while reminding people that large Supreme Court precedents have been overturned in the past.
That Palin apparently locked up and didn’t name or even allude to any of these cases is indeed surprising, not because it reflects ignorance, but because it separates her from the base of knowledge characteristic of those most avid to see her elected vice president.

One comment on “Sarah and the Supremes

  1. mike from ri on

    This is to call an error to your attention.
    The Dred Scot decision struck down as unconstitutional the Missouri Compromise (which limited the extension of slavery into the territories). It did not uphold the fugitive slave act. It was an instance of right-wing judicial activism,


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