A well-deserved inferiority complex

The Washington Post offers a profile of Judge Diane Wood of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, who is said to be on President Obama’s shortlist to replace Justice Souter. The author, Peter Slevin, builds his story around two of Judge Wood’s colleagues on the Seventh Circuit, Richard Posner and Frank Easterbrook. Both are brilliant and both are viewed as conservative (Judge Posner, I think, defies such an easy characterization). Slevin suggests that Judge Wood is their equal when it comes to “candlepower.”

It’s an important selling point because liberals in the legal community hope to see a high-powered leftist on the Supreme Court. Indeed, they view this as a matter of some urgency because they perceive, correctly, that Justice Scalia and Chief Justice Roberts are running rings around the Court’s liberals when it comes to opinion writing (liberals, for whatever reason, refuse to acknowledge that Justice Thomas is doing so, as well).

Accordingly, for the liberal legal community, unlike the liberal political community, the need to put a “star” on the Court trumps the need for a Hispanic. The “star” still has to be female, though, these are liberals after all. (I think this inferiority complex helps explains Jeffrey Rosen’s early salvo against Judge Sotomayor). If Wood actually has held her own in relation to Posner and Easterbrook, she would qualify as a star.

It’s satisfying, as a conservative, to see the left’s inferiority complex bubble to the surface. But the left may be copping out by blaming the opinoin-writing gap on the lack of sufficient intellectual capacity among the liberal Justice’s. Justice Breyer, to take one example, isn’t short on “candlepower.” It’s just harder to write powerful legal opinions when you aren’t judging the way most people still expect judges to judge, i.e, when you’re substituting personal policy preferences for the law.

What was it our president used to say about putting lipstick on a pig?


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