Friday, October 07, 2005

Justice Smails:

It's too bad that Ted Knight didn't live long enough to play the part he was born to play...we'll, he sort of played it once (brilliantly) in Caddyshack. In this post by Jim Lindgren entitled Earl Warren Burger Is Miers' Favorite Justice?, Lindgren recalls some personal meetings with Burger. He notes "Burger had an impressive white mane, but struck me as sort of a Ted Baxter character (from the Mary Tyler Moore show)"; but then when he described Burger's personality, it was far more Judge Smails (Caddyshack) than Ted Baxter. Smails had all of Baxter's arrogant creepiness, but to the tenth power. When I read Lindren's account of Burger, I could hear Ted Knight's voice in my head saying all these things and starting cracking up:

He looked like a Supreme Court Justice sent from central casting, but when he opened his mouth, he came off (to me) as crude and vain....

Yet on that day in the mid-1980s, Burger spoke at length about an African American woman on the Court staff who had filed a claim of race discrimination against him (or perhaps it was against the Court administration). Burger did not try to conceal his glee that she lost. Why he would even bring it up for discussion was beyond me (it was very odd), and he repeatedly and pointedly called her a "Negro" when that term had become much less commonly used in educated society (though it was sometimes still used in Court opinions).

Second, Burger went on for over a half hour about how embarrassing it was when Justices went to parties in Washington (especially embassy parties) and they did not have chauffeurs, how he was trying to get drivers for Justices, and how much he enjoyed the royal treatment he received when he visited other countries. With great pride, he detailed the lavish welcome that he had received when he visited Canada.

Third, when an Australian judge or professor (also visiting at Virginia) mentioned to Burger that one of the leading judges in Australia would be coming to Washington and asked Burger whether he was scheduled to meet the Australian jurist, Burger replied that he couldn't meet every judge who came to Washington from minor countries. I wasn't the only one who was stunned by this statement.

I could just imagine at one of those cocktail parties a young man lamenting in a private chit chat, how he dreamed of going to law school, but that it was likely not in the cards -- and Burger snapping back, "well, the world needs ditch-diggers too you know."