Affairs of State

I find myself appalled by the current political scene in this country. No sooner did Supreme Court Justice Scalia die than the Republicans began battling over the President’s right to nominate a successor, a right clearly specified in the Constitution.

I do not hold to the views of Justice Scalia, the longest serving member of the Court, but I respect his intelligence and wit in holding forth on many of them. However, I find it thoroughly disrespectful the way so many have responded to his death. Disrespectful, rude, insensitive—to his wife, to his children and to the spirit in which one might feel about the death of anyone.

And then there are the so-called debates, debates that are not debates at all but little else but shouting matches. The way we hold elections in this country is utter madness, they last forever, become repetitious, tedious, boring.

By contrast, in some European countries, elections are called when the ruling party loses a vote of confidence. An election is held to form a new parliament or assembly about a month or so before a vote is held. The candidates for the legislature campaign during that relatively short time, the election is held and the ruling party or coalition elects a leader. How terribly sensible.

in a less polemical comment on the current political scene, Scott and Ami Dodson, report a study of the literary citations nine Supreme Court justices. Who among them has made the most literary citations in their opinions? They frame the question in terms of the purported effects of reading literary fiction—“develops deeper thinking, greater empathy, and better decision making.”

Leaving that matter aside, the Dodson’s searched all the opinions written by the current justices for what they call “high” literature references, excluding the Bible and popular fiction (e.g. J. K. Rowling). The most cited fiction authors were William Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll, each mentioned sixteen times by the same five justices (Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg and Breyer).

Eight other authors were cited at least two times—Orwell, Dickens, Huxley, Aesop, Dostoyevsky, Faulkner, Melville, Salinger. Such authors as Tolstoy, Dante, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Austen, etc. were cited once. And then there were a group of authors not cited at all—Toni Morrison, Murakami, Nabokov, Camus, etc.

In terms of simply counting literary citations, Justice Scalia was by far the most prolific. However, he had also served on the court the longest and therefore has had an opportunity to write far more opinions. Nevertheless, correcting for this factor, still leaves Scalia as the most frequent citer (39) of literature. Breyer (15), Thomas (11), Ginsburg (7), and Kennedy (8), with the remaining four justices trailing far behind.

I’ve been led to wonder by all this is any of the current political candidates have cited a work of literature in the many speeches they have given. My hunch is not a one has done so. Has any candidate for public office or elected official in this country every cited a work of literature? These questions are not raised in jest. After all, isn’t a country’s literary culture one way to measure its quality of life?