Associate Injustice

I’ve always thought of California as the nation’s trend-setter, not New Hampshire. We try not to show where the nation is going, but where it should. That’s one reason I think it’s good that we hold the first presidential primary; we help sort the wheat from the chaff, and force those who would be president to do a bit of retail politicking and reveal a bit more of themselves and their character than they would wish.

But it turns out we just might be setting a trend in other areas, including one where I really wish we weren’t.

New Hampshire has a County Superior Court judge named Patricia Coffey who’s in a bit of hot water. She is accused of dozing off during a trial over which she presided, a trial that concluded with her sentencing the defendant to 23 to 46 years in prison for several sexual assaults. Judge Coffey is facing disciplinary action, a process that could end with her being suspended from the bench — or worse.

But what happens when that happens in Washington, and the jurist in question happens to be on the United States Supreme Court?

The Supreme Court is known as “the court of last resort,” and it is the one court for which there is no appeal. Its decisions are final — unless overturned by itself or a Constitutional amendment. There are no mistrials declared, no reviews of its procedures or actions. and the only check on the justices is the “big gun” of impeachment by Congress — a procedure undertaken exactly once in history, over 200 years ago, and Justice Samuel Chase was acquitted.

So, what should be done about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg falling asleep on the bench during one of the most important political cases to reach the court in years?

That’s irrelevant. Nothing can be done. Justice Ginsburg is on the bench until she chooses to step down, or the Congress removes her — and that is NOT likely to happen. The only thing that can be done is for her colleagues to impose some informal pressure on her to either straighten up and stay awake, or step down. And in this instance, neither Justice Souter or Justice Alito — who sit beside her — bothered to rouse her.

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  1. George March 2, 2006
  2. EdMcGon March 2, 2006
  3. JD March 2, 2006
  4. Master Shake March 2, 2006
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  11. Mac Lorry March 3, 2006