Sunday, May 30, 2010

Kagan's Nomination, The Roberts Court at 5, Lippman & the NY Court, Decisions & Voting, Etc.--and the Road Trip

[Again, just to be clear: No, I'm not there. Just keeping Haiti in mind, as well as other places where tragedy has caused suffering that demands assistance and reminding.]
Back to New York Court Watcher after a BBQ Road Trip with my son Martin in celebration of his graduation from law school. [More about that below for anyone interested.]
Elena Kagan has been nominated by the President to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. The Senate confirmation hearings will commence in late June. In forthcoming posts, we'll take a look at a few things to watch as the Senators on the Judiciary Committee question Kagan--ostensibly to determine if she is qualified and fit to be on the Supreme Court. The Senators will, of course, be trying to score political points with constituents back home, and they will be exercising their prerogative (and final opportunity) to make Kagan listen to what they think Supreme Court Justices should and should not do and to see how well she can flatter their views or avoid addressing them.

Along with all the typical condemnations of judicial activism, judges making law, loose construction, creating new rights, etc., and other overly simplistic and unenlightening discourses by the Senators, there will be an important undercurrent to keep in mind. It may or may not be made explicit. It will, however, certainly be in the forefront of the concerns bothering many of the Senators. Kagan will be the 4th New Yorker on the 9-member Court. She will be the 3d Jew. There will be no white male Protestants--in fact, no Protestants at all. (All the Justices will be Catholic or Jewish. Justice Stevens was the lone Protestant on the Court.)

[I already discussed some of this on New York Court Watcher and on the air, and the New York Times' James Barron then did a great related piece.
Time Warner's YNN program, Capital Tonight, "Obama's Choice for Supreme Court," May 10, 2010, is available at:
The Times story by James Barron, "A New York Bloc on the Supreme Court," May 11, 2010, is available at:
And the previous post is Supreme Court: Short List to Replace Stevens (Part 1: Elena Kagan), April 15, 2010.]

So there is plenty to examine about this nomination and the coming confirmation process, and there will be more to discuss as the hearings proceed.

Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court is finishing its year--the 2009-2010 year, referred to as the October 2009 Term. This marks the completion of 5 years under Chief Justice John Roberts. There is much to look at in his record and that of the Court, for this past year and for the 5-year period.

In New York, the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, is winding up its business before the summer recess. (That court's official year is actually coterminous with the calendar year. Nevertheless, as with the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals' long break for the summer and return in the fall--with the concomitant change in law clerks--does have all the feel of the end of one court year and the beginning of another.) This past year, the fall 2009 through spring 2010 year, marks the first full such year since Jonathan Lippman was appointed to the court as Chief Judge.

As for both of those courts--and others we might examine--there are decisional highlights to review, ideological patterns of the respective courts and voting patterns of the respective Justices and Judges to assess, and--this is both fun and very revealing--"goats" (actually, what gets them) of the various Justices and Judges in their colleagues' rulings.

And there's always other matters in the world of courts and judges and constitutional issues--always lots and lots of them--that arise and deserve attention. We'll examine some of them as well.

In the next post, we'll begin tackling some of the issues cum questions, polemics, and responses which will almost certainly be part of the Senate confirmation hearings on Elena Kagan.

[As for the post-graduation BBQ Road Trip with my newly minted Juris Doctor son Martin, a few highlights.
The trip took us from Albany (OK, Delmar) to west Texas (my sister Amelia & brother-in-law Roger's home in Midland) and to numerous stops in between, primarily to feast at BBQ joints we've seen on the Food Network or the Travel Channel, and to catch some blues music along the way. Here are a few trip favorites.
Best BBQ--A tough one. But it's between Jim Neely's Interstate BBQ in Memphis (my favorite pork ribs, beef ribs & chicken slathered in sauce) and Black's BBQ in Lockhart, Texas (the "BBQ Capital;" Martin's favorite, and my sauceless "dry rub" favorite for insanely good beef ribs). Great folks running both places too.
Best Fried Chicken--Another close one, but both are part of a chain. Yes, my apologies, but it's a chain. Church's Chicken in Corpus Christi (Mart's fave) and Church's Chicken in Mansfield, Ohio (mine). Incredibly good "double battered" chicken and wonderful staff enthusiastic about cookin' and servin' chicken they're proud of.
Best Buffet Breakfast--Stephen Foster Restaurant in Bardstown, Kentucky. Lots of what you'd expect for a Southern breakfast. E.g., dinner-size bone-in ham to accompany the scrambled eggs; no thin deli slices here. BTW, Bardstown is the "Bourbon Capital" with lots of distilleries in the immediate area. Which leads to...
Best Bourbon--Bardstown's own Very Old Barton, 6 years, 50%. Never saw this one before. But it's apparently very popular in the area and Mart & I enjoyed it throughout the trip and brought some back to Albany.
Best Blues Bar--Mr. Handy's Juke Joint Blues Hall on Beale Street in Memphis. We had no idea that many think this is the best club for good old juke joint music on Beale Street. But we ambled in, drawn by the "Big Ass" beers they advertise (in our case, PBR), and we ended up staying for a few hours as the place rocked to a band as smokin' as I've ever heard. Great place.
Best Attraction--The Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis. This is the site of the former recording studio where Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes, Booker T & the MG's, and others cranked out some of the best music America ever produced. Soul music and civil rights. Moving. Hard to beat.
Best Beer--Alien Amber Ale by a microbrewery, Sierra Blanca, in Moriarty, New Mexico. Had this at the Lone Star Cafe on the San Antonio Riverwalk (with a pretty terrific bacon & blue cheese burger). Really liked this dark beer, love the Riverwalk, and the staff at this place were very friendly and fun.
Best Meal (as in the very best of all)--In Midland, Texas, my sister Amelia's dinner of gravy meats (beef tenderloin & New York strip simmered in tomato sauce) and rigatoni. Yes, the BBQ and fried chicken on the trip were great, but this was an out-of-world experience! In fact, the only meal that approached this was breakfast at my Mom's (we stopped in Douglaston, N.Y. at the beginning of the trip so she could feed us) of baked chicken, Italian sausage and potatoes.
Most Ridiculous Activity--Belting out Engelbert Humperdink hits ("Lonely is a Man Without Love," "Last Dance with You,"
"Les Bicyclettes de Belsize," etc.) with my brother-in-law (and dignified heart surgeon) Roger after he, Martin & I finished a bottle of Chivas. This was triggered by my sister Amelia's revealing what a big fan Roger is of Mr. Humperdink. Who knew?
Best State--Hey, that's easy. It's always wonderful to return to New York. Especially on the road. It's so beautiful. This time it was through the Lake Erie coastline and rolling wine country of the westernmost part of the state, then across the Finger Lake region, then the Mohawk Valley. Come on, this is God's country.

Well, those are a few highlights of the BBQ Road Trip of 2010. In forthcoming posts, we'll get back to the business of Court, Judges, Issues, Decisions and Voting.]