Mapping the justices

Indignity Vol. 4, No. 95

Mapping the justices


How Does the Supreme Court Work?

OVER THE WEEKEND, Politico published an article, complete with a big graph and a big chart, designed to tell the readers that the Supreme Court is a much more subtle and complicated body than the average person might think. Where normal observers see a highly polarized 6–3 court controlled by Republican partisans, the justices really divide up into an alignment of three different three-judge clusters, explained the economist Dean Jens and Sarah Isgur, the former Trump administration flack responsible for selling the kids-in-cages policy and the Muslim ban.

The model proposed by Jens and Isgur supposedly sorted the justices along two different axes: from liberal to conservative, and from "more institutionalist" to "less institutionalist." The three Democratic-appointed justices—Elena Kagan, Ketanji Brown Jackson, and Sonia Sotomayor—still formed a group, but now they were down in the  "liberal" and "less institutionalist" corner,  perfectly counterbalanced by Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch in the "conservative"/"less institutionalist" spot. Between and above these two ideological clusters, devoted to the institution and just a shade to the right of the midline between conservative and liberal, were Chief Justice John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. 

How did two of the people who set fire to generations of abortion precedent in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, and three people who voted for a newly invented theory of unlimited gun rights in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, come to represent the "more institutionalist" side of the court, while its three most ardent defenders of stare decisis were consigned to the "less institutionalist" position? Presumably the answer is that Kagan, Jackson, and Sotomayor keep writing dissents in which they're rude enough to point out that the rest of the court is making blatantly political decisions with no basis in existing law or facts, while Roberts and Barrett, in particular, express grave concern that people would say such things about such a nice and decent court. 

The rest of the Politico analysis was too stupid to even analyze—Jens and Isgur argued that people focused too much on the divisiveness of 6–3 partisan decisions while downplaying decisions with different alignments, but ignored the basic fact that those 6–3 decisions had all overturned the status quo, while the others had upheld it—but it clearly wasn't meant to stand up to scrutiny. It was just designed to scatter some chaff into an extremely simple radar image. 

But for people who aren't satisfied with the simple left/right (or normal judge//Federalist Society judge) distinction that decides Supreme Court cases, here's Indignity's two-dimensional model of how the court works. The nine justices are placed on two axes: one measuring how much power they have to impose their agenda on the country, and the other measuring how they talk about it:

Supreme Court justices' cutout black-and-white heads taped to a graph-paper matrix, labeled in pencil, with a Y axis ascending from Unhinged to Smarmy and an X axis running L-R from Powerless to Powerful. Kagan, Jackson, and Sotomayor are stacked in the middle of the far left side; Roberts is in the topmost right part of the upper left quadrant; Barrett, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh run from top to bottom in the upper right quadrant; Alito is in the lower right corner of the lower right quadrant, with Thomas just above him.
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TODAY IS JUNE 4, also known as May 35. A Google search for "June 4" led to an article from the Associated Press, published today, with the headline "Today in History: June 4: Battle of Midway Begins." 

What else happened on June 4, besides the Battle of Midway? The AP listed one major thing that happened 35 years ago today: 

In 1989, a gas explosion in the Soviet Union engulfed two passing trains, killing 575.

Indeed it did, in a hideous disaster that was almost the most shocking and deadly event in the world on that date. 

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Mad Max Movies, Ranked:

1. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

2. The Road Warrior [Mad Max 2] (1981)

3. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024)

4. Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

5. Mad Max (1979)

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A smudgy cloud behind a little wispy cloud against lots of blue sky

New York City, June 3, 2024

★★★★ The air conditioner had been too loud to put up with overnight, in the end. The sun held off a little while, then came down all but unimpeded from an empty, slightly hazy sky. The late morning air was still refreshing; a cellophane wrapper blew along the sidewalk on a cool breeze. Fat, fleshy weeds extended their broad leaves up from a tree box alongside its proper occupant. A motorcycle ran a red light, slowing and going as if it were a bicycle. The sun was hot on the nape but not unbearable as the bells rang noon and the sparrows begged in vain for a bit of danish. The afternoon clouds presented themselves in different forms—here furrows, there shreds, over here a blur—but always widely spaced, so as not to interfere with the light. 

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CLICK ON THIS box to enjoy today's Indignity Morning Podcast:

Indignity Morning Podcast No. 287: No definite article.
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WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS in aid of the assembly of a sandwich selected from Mrs. Ericsson Hammond's Salad Appetizer Cook Book, by Maria Matilda Ericsson Hammond. Published in 1924, and now in the Public Domain and available at for the delectation of all.

Sandwich de Crabes d’huitre à la Bergdre

Cut slices of bread, spread them with butter and anchovy paste mixed; cut them out with a round biscuit cutter. Decorate a border around each with Philadelphia cream cheese and fill the center with fried oyster crabs. Arrange them in the form of a ring on a platter and garnish with parsley in the center. Serve before the soup.

Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Stir a tablespoon of butter smooth; add the small package of Philadelphia cream cheese and stir to a cream; add a tablespoon of finely chopped parsley, flavor it with a trifle lemon juice, cayenne pepper and salt.

How to Fry Oyster Crabs. Wash the oyster crabs; put them on a clean cloth on the table to drain; put them in the frying basket and dip in smoking hot Mazola Oil, one, two, and three, just a second for each time, then shake the basket, and sprinkle them with pepper and salt. Leave to get cold.

If you decide to prepare and attempt to enjoy a sandwich inspired by this offering, be sure to send a picture to 

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Supplies are really and truly running low of the second printing of 19 FOLK TALES, still available for gift-giving and personal perusal! Sit in the gathering heat with a breezy collection of stories, each of which is concise enough to read before the thunderstorms start.

HMM WEEKLY MINI-ZINE, Subject: GAME SHOW, Joe MacLeod’s account of his Total Experience of a Journey Into Television, expanded from the original published account found here at Hmm DailyThe special MINI ZINE features other viewpoints related to an appearance on, at, and inside the teevee game show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, available for purchase at SHOPULA.

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