Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Wanted: a qualified Supreme Court judge

Michelle Malkin, whose career Eric Muller for some reason can't help promoting, says we need to take care that we find a "wartime Supreme Court justice."

"Wartime" judges are precisely what we do not need. We don't need judges who will suspend us in a state of emergency. More than ever we need judges who dare to act as if things were the same as before--who stand up for freedom and due process and democracy as we thought we knew it.

I'm still amazed at how relevant the spring 2002 issue of the South Atlantic Quarterly is. I pulled it out for Stanley Hauerwas but am drawn now to Archbishop Rowan Williams. This was the point he made then. Yes, it was natural that our first reaction to September 11 was the thought of violent retliation, but we had time. We had time to think better of it. We had time to become more, not less, of what, in our ideal imaginations, we aimed to be.

We have the freedom to think what we actually want, to probe our desires for some kind of outcome that is more than just mirroring what we have experienced. The trouble is that this means work of the kind we are often least eager for, work that will help us so to understand an other that we begin to find some sense of what they and we might recognise as good. It means putting on hold our immediate feelings--or at least making them objects of reflection; it means trying to pull apart the longing to re-establish the sense of being in control and the longing to find a security that is shared. In plainer English, it means being very suspicious of any action that brings a sense of release, irrespective of what it achieves; very wary of doing something so that it looks as if something is getting done.

It means acknowledging and using the breathing space; and also acknowledging and using the rage and revengefulness as a way of sensing a little of where violence comes from. I'd better say it again: this has nothing to do with excusing decisions to murder, threaten, and torment, nor is it a recommendation to be passive. It is about trying to act so that something might possibly change, as opposed to acting so as to persuade ourselves that we're not powerless.

The kind of judge that would meet Archbishop Williams' approval is one who would understand "that the punishment of terrorist crime and the gradual reduction of its threat cannot be translated into the satisfying language of decisive conquest." It is someone who would recognize "the place of risk and even loss in ordinary civil society" while summoning "the moral resources needed to grapple with the continuing problems of shaping a lawful international order."

I know, it's way too much to ask now. We're at war.

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