When President Bush chose John Roberts as his Supreme Court nominee, you probably had the same stunned reaction I did: What, no one named "Bob Johnson" was available?
When you are looking for easy confirmation, particularly in this era of virulent partisanship and politics-by-spite, you want to find someone who is fully credentialed in terms of unassailable blandness. So why not start with the name? That's the smart move, and no one ever accused this president of not being smart.
Well, it is the smart move, anyway. Still, it's sad. Although the very first U.S. Supreme Court justice was "James Wilson," over its long and storied history the court has largely been
occupied by people with bodacious names, such as Bushrod Washington, Brockholst Livingston, Noah Swayne, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, Rufus Peckham, Salmon P. Chase, Thurgood Marshall and Felix "Hot Buns" Frankfurter. I think presidents actually used to seek guys with grandiloquent names, because it seemed to give them gravitas. If some 19th-century lawyer had been named Harrumphus P. Grouchbotham, he would have been in robes in no time.
But, times have changed. They've been changing ever since nominee Robert "Bork" was rejected because of his goofy name. What followed was a succession of boring names,
usually attached to boring people who would stir no controversy. And now we have John Roberts, who not only is named "John Roberts" but looks like that pipe-smoking, tidy, shiny-faced, smiling American Dad in Depression-era billboards extolling the American Way.
Because of this trend toward generic nominees, surveys have shown, most Americans today do not even know who the justices of the Supreme Court are. This is a shocking abandonment of your civic duties. So I thought, as a savvy Washington journalist, I would help you out with a sophisticated guide to the eight current members of the court.
1) The black guy. He fills the coveted "black seat," having been installed by the first President Bush in one of the presidency's
most boffo practical jokes. This is because he is very conservative, and many black people consider this guy about as black, culturally and philosophically, as Laura Bush. The black guy was actually a rarity: a controversial nominee. He has addressed this problem, as a justice, by never opening his mouth.
2) The really old guy. That would be the chief justice, whatsizname. You may recall the fact that he startled the Clinton impeachment trial by arriving in robes that had sergeant's chevrons on the sleeve. All the senators glanced at one another out of the corners of their eyes, but no one said anything. What are you going to say? It would be like the pope suddenly appearing in St. Peter's Square wearing leotards and a codpiece. You just accept it and hope he doesn't start yodeling. Recently, the really old guy issued a statement confirming that he is still alive and plans to remain so for the foreseeable future. Nickname: "Sarge."
3) The scrawny little Jewish lady. She is 3-foot-4 and weighs less than an adolescent Dalmatian. Unlike the black guy, she does speak in court, but is never actually seen. She is the most liberal member of the court, favoring mandatory abortions. I find her kind of hot.
4) The really white guy.
5) The other really white guy, with the bowtie.
6) Someone else whose face I can't recall, but he is definitely white.
7) That other guy. Remember him? Well, he's still there.
8) The Italian guy. I saved him for last because he is interesting. He is famous for being kind of nasty. There are all sorts of stories about this guy using withering sarcasm, asking insulting questions, whacking lawyers on the head with a tire iron, etc. I like this guy, even though he is so right wing he makes the black guy look like Ho Chi Minh.
As I write this, Democrats were still scrambling to find dirt on "John Roberts," thus far without luck. Near as anyone can tell, he has no enemies, no secrets, no vices, no opinions, no habits, no interests, has exactly 2 1/2 children, does not use the bathroom, etc. Things should go smoothly.
Meanwhile, since the Really Old Guy is really old, I am prepared to predict the next appointment. I did a little research. In Texas, there is a big-shot, salt-of-the-earth corporate lawyer named "John Bland." He was going to be my candidate, only I see he is a rock musician and songwriter, and his wife is an actress. Too much personality there.
I'm going with a guy I found in Fort Pierce, Fla. He's a court administrator. His name is John Vanilla.
Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is email@example.com.
Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon at www.washingtonpost.com.