Letters - Autumn 2012

Response to Our Summer 2012 Issue

By Our Readers | September 4, 2012


Buy a Judge

Justice for Sale” (Summer 2012) addresses an important problem in some states, that of the influence—real and perceived—of campaign contributions on the independence of a state’s elected judges. I emphasize some since—as the article’s writer, Lincoln Caplan, notes in calling for a “campaign to replace judicial elections with merit selection”—merit selection committees now operate in 35 states and the District of Columbia.

Equally to be emphasized is the difference in this regard between the state judiciaries and the federal judiciary. The long-standing tradition in the states has been to elect judges, on the theory that this would promote judicial independence by separating judges from the potentially corrupting influence of the governors and the state legislatures. By contrast, the constitutional tradition governing the federal judiciary is nomination by the president and confirmation by the Senate.

Robert Wilson correctly observes in the issue’s Editor’s Note that “it’s impossible to contemplate that the brown-paper-bag sort of corruption … is at work in the chambers of the highest court.” But he then adds, “Look at courts a little lower, though, as Lincoln Caplan does.” However, neither the editor nor the author takes note of the more than 800 lower court federal judges (trial and appellate) serving in the federal system, appointed in the same manner as Supreme Court justices, for whom it equally can be said that it is impossible to contemplate that sort of institutional corruption.

Of course, it is true that over the course of our country’s judicial history there have been a few corrupt federal judges, a function of numbers and the rare breakdown of adequate presidential selection (see the 1994 Report of the National Commission on Judicial Discipline and Removal), not to mention congressional refusal to provide adequate judicial compensation. However, though the problem of campaign contribution influence is real and deserving of serious attention, it is not a sign of pervasive corruption in our country’s judicial system, at either the state or the federal level. Confidence in our judiciary is a cornerstone of American democracy; criticism, when warranted, is certainly appropriate, but it must be carefully focused and balanced as well.


Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

Washington, D.C.

The Man Who Was Edmund Burke

Brian Doyle’s essay (“The Right Honourable Mr. Burke”) is an extraordinary and propulsive piece about the sort of complex and eloquent politician who would not be tolerated much these days. I have only one quibble regarding the article’s aside on conservatives such as myself. In my experience it is too often liberals who see the need for a sort of conformity that to me is unnatural, certainly undemocratic, and always boring. That said, I can imagine this piece appearing in the Scholar when Joseph Epstein was the editor.


from our website

Other Voices

In “Living With Voices,” T. M. Luhrmann seems to think it matters a great deal whether a voice is experienced as audible or only as an “inner” voice. This seems blinkered. The common denominator between the voices typically heard by schizophrenics as loud and external and the voices heard by depressed people as purely mental is that they are almost always harshly critical. The strategy  of engaging with these voices rather than fleeing from them is curative for both populations.

The Hearing Voices movement should proceed as scientifically as possible. But the idea that the current psychiatric model is successful is hilarious. Treating schizophrenia with antipsychotics is about on a par with treating depression by hitting the patient on the head with a shovel. The time will come when the treatment regimes dictated by Big Pharma will be regarded as barbaric.


from our website

The Mind of Borges

George Watson’s collection of Jorge Luis Borges’s responses and thoughts (“An Unquenchable Gaiety of Mind”) brought the Argentine writer wonderfully back to mind. Borges’s imagination and scholarly sincerity still inspire across time, language differences, and geographical space. His love of Dante inspired me to read the whole Divine Comedy, and I agree with him that language is a physical pleasure, the brain stroking itself.


from our website

Web Discovery

Yesterday, while browsing the Scholar’s website, I discovered Sven Birkerts’s “Reading in a Digital Age” (Spring 2010) and was struck by its brilliance. I will save it in my digital library on my Nook, forward it to a friend, and marvel repeatedly over the paragraph that begins, “Metaphor, the poet, imagination.”


Bellevue, Washington

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