Begging The Question

Friday, July 20, 2007

Aluminum Tubes! Oil! Yellow Cake!
Well, this would certainly make the next eighteen months more interesting. Mars, bitches!

Bridge to Nowhere
I watched the movie The Bridge the other night, and it's still bugging me. Here's some background, here's the website, here's the trailer, and here's the amazing New Yorker article that inspired the film.

In short, The Bridge is a documentary about the Golden Gate Bridge and some of the people who jump off it. The Golden Gate is, according to the movie, the most popular spot for suicides in the world. Eric Steel, the director, set up cameras pointed at the bridge (while hiding his intent from officials), and managed to capture several jumps on film. Most of the movie is interviews with friends and family members of the jumpers, intercut with footage of the bridge.

It's hard to watch. The camera focuses on someone nervously strolling along the pedestrian walkway, looking over the railing, and you know what's going to happen. I'm sure the other pedestrians knew what was going on, too, and I hope they at least called for help. One onlooker in the movie did even more -- he forcibly pulled a woman back over the rail to safety and held her down until help arrived. But there are a lot who weren't saved, and no one stopped them from going over the rail.

The New Yorker article discusses an issue the movie doesn't: the possibility of installing a barrier that would prevent jumping. I don't really understand the mentality of people who so vehemently resist it. There's still no barrier, and people still go to the Golden Gate to jump. I understand that some, maybe even most, of these people would find some other way to kill themselves if they're that determined. But some wouldn't. Some come to the Golden Gate for the majesty and drama of it. And even a marginal benefit, I think, is worth putting a little bit of safety fencing on what amounts to an attractive nuisance.

Of course, I can't understand the mentality of the jumpers, either. The psychology of suicide isn't something I'm even remotely able to grasp. I've been pretty down before -- and there are a lot of things in my life now that aren't going that well -- but I just don't understand how someone makes that decision. I don't have moral objections to suicide, and I support legalizing physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, so in theory I can see how someone's rational calculus could come to the conclusion that suicide is preferable to living. But in reality I think I would probably disagree with the math. Maybe I value opportunity costs very highly.

I wonder what the jumpers would have done if they could have seen the interviews with their loved ones. At a minimum, they would have known they would be missed. I wonder what they would have done if they had seen Steel's interview with a young man who, improbably, survived the jump (with severe injuries). He says that the moment he went over the rail, he thought, very clearly, "I don't want to die." The mind reels at how many others shared that thought but not his luck to get a second chance.

I think about suicide sometimes. Not doing it, any more than anyone else, but the concept of it. This is especially true with regard to heights, because, as I mentioned here way back when, I tend to feel a compulsion to jump. The more I think about it, I think a better way to describe it would be to say that I think so much about what jumping would be like that I start to visualize it, and it becomes very vivid in my mind, and eventually I become quite frightened and anxious and worried that thinking so much about doing it -- seeing myself doing it in my mind's eye -- that I won't be able to stop myself from doing it. Mental visualization is funny that way, and often used as a positive motivational tool precisely because it's so powerful. You can trick your brain that way. I can make myself feel faint and dizzy and nauseous just by thinking about being in some high place.

So watching The Bridge was unsettling. But worth watching. But I don't think I'll be getting anywhere near the Golden Gate Bridge. And I think I'll keep the Sleater-Kinney song "Jumpers" off my playlist for a while.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Thoughts on the Democratic Short List
Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSblog had interesting posts here and here about potential Democratic Supreme Court nominees. Goldstein collects some responses at that second link. He noted that most of the responses were from conservative bloggers, and speculated that "conservatives recognize the importance of judicial nominations much more than do liberals." Prof. Balkin responds here with pretty much what I would have said, although he says it a lot better.

I don't think it's that liberals don't care about judicial nominations, but their focus and priorities are different than conservatives' right now. Liberals still have to pay attention to President Bush's (lower court) nominations and can't afford to look ahead just yet. It's a luxury to be able to think about a Democratic president nominating Supreme Court justices. I think another reason liberals didn't have a lot to say is that Goldstein's list looks pretty good. One could quibble here and there with Goldstein's final predictions, but it's hard to have major complaints about the list. Goldstein promises a post soon discussing potential Republican nominees; I expect a lot more liberal commentary to that post.

Goldstein's (revised) ultimate prediction is that the first three nominees in a Democratic presidency would be Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Dean Elana Kagan, and attorney Teresa Roseborough (on the assumption that she would get a circuit court judgeship early on in a Democratic administration). Of note, all three are women. I don't have any great problem with this list, as such, but I have my doubts it will actually work out this way. I think that's especially true if either of two things happen, both of which look fairly-to-somewhat likely as of now.

The first is if Republicans adopt the tactic Democrats have used during the Bush administration of stonewalling -- to the point of filibustering -- qualified but ideologically objectionable candidates for the lower court, with the ultimate goal of preventing those candidates from getting to the Supreme Court. If the Republicans do to Roseborough or Kagan (if the next President nominates her for a circuit court first) what the Democrats did to Miguel Estrada, that would make it more difficult to get her on the Supreme Court. There's no reason to think they wouldn't do this, right?

Second, if Hillary Clinton is the next president, I think there will be a subtle political pressure not to appoint three consecutive women to the high court. Even though several women are among the list of undoubtedly unqualified candidates in the right age range (especially Judge Diane Wood), I think a President Hillary Clinton would want to avoid the perception that her litmus test is a gender test. I think the first nominee will almost certainly be a woman, for all the reasons Goldstein posits, and even the second one might be. But I think three female nominees in a row from a female president would just raise a bunch of distracting issues.

I should make clear that I don't have a problem with as many women on the court as someone wants to put there. But the idea of having to listen to blowhard anti-feminists whining about a "no men allowed" policy is so tiring -- years in advance -- that I wouldn't mind avoiding it. The way to avoid it, of course, is to nominate a man, and there are several qualified candidates, or to nominate a woman who is so obviously qualified that the notion of a gender quota never gets any traction. (This is the John Roberts precedent -- there were some minor complaints about replacing Justice O'Connor with a male, but no one could reasonably argue he wasn't qualified. The male-female issue gained a little more traction with Samuel Alito's nomination because it was the second chance to nominate a woman to replace O'Connor.) And if the GOP opposes a nominee like Roseborough to the point that she can't get on the circuit court, that would leave her without that credential if she were nominated for the Supreme Court.

My point is that the odds of a Democratic president -- especially if that president is Hillary Clinton -- nominating the three women Goldstein suggests, in that order, is small. But the odds are good that the next president will have several chances, and I'm confident that the Democrats will take those opportunities very seriously. (What will be very fascinating to see is if the lefty blogosphere erupts in a Bizarro Harriet Miers scenario, if it feels a candidate isn't liberal enough.) But, as Prof. Balkin suggests, the primary focus of a Democratic administration, from Day One, should be stocking the federal bench with potential future nominees. And even if those future judges never get elevated, I think Democrats have seen enough in the last six years to understand the value of filling the lower courts with the type of judges they want. The Democrats need to think systemically, and long-term, and I have no doubt they will.

Anyway, all this is so wildly speculative now that it borders on the absurd to imagine how the judicial nomination landscape will look in three or four years. But it sure is fun for law nerds like me.

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