Judge Cutie

by digby

Did you all hear about our illustrious Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia using the fictional character of Jack Bauer to illustrate his belief that torture is necessary in a time of crisis?

Senior judges from North America and Europe were in the midst of a panel discussion about torture and terrorism law, when a Canadian judge’s passing remark - “Thankfully, security agencies in all our countries do not subscribe to the mantra ‘What would Jack Bauer do?’ ” - got the legal bulldog in [Justice Antonin Scalia] barking.

The conservative jurist stuck up for Agent Bauer, arguing that fictional or not, federal agents require latitude in times of great crisis. “Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles. … He saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” Judge Scalia said. Then, recalling Season 2, where the agent’s rough interrogation tactics saved California from a terrorist nuke, the Supreme Court judge etched a line in the sand.

“Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?” Judge Scalia challenged his fellow judges. “Say that criminal law is against him? ‘You have the right to a jury trial?’ Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer? I don’t think so.”

I assume he was just being his usual rollicking, hilarious self, but I do worry just a tad that he fails to understand that in real life there is no narrative arc and you can't change the script if it doesn't work. And I worry even more that he and his philosophical brethren forget that sometimes the "good guys" are actually the "bad guys" and when the "good guys" are given total latitude to decide what is and is not a "crisis" we will tend to find ourselves in one all the time.

This Jack Bauer phenomenon is getting out of hand. It's bad enough that average Americans get off on the idea that sometimes you just have to take the gloves off and pull somebody's fingernails out. And it's even worse that right wing talk show hosts believe that because "24" gets good ratings it should be taken as a national referendum in support of torture. But I guess I expect something a little bit more serious from Supreme Court judges -- even adorable pranksters like Scalia.

And I will be most anxious to learn in what other situations he supports jury nullification. It is, to say the least, an unusual outlook on the rule of law from a Supreme Court justice.

I'm certainly looking forward to the next 20 years of conservative judicial activism, aren't you? I knew they'd be rolling back as much progress as possible, but I didn't actually contemplate that they'd try to roll it all the way back to the Inquisition. Good to know.