Sunday, June 24, 2007

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Confuses Reality with Fiction.

It could be argued that America has invented show-business, to the point that fiction is often mixed with politics:

The old Star Trek offered the vision of an integrated society, M*A*S*H was a social commentary on the Vietnam war and more recently many fictions have dealt with extremely sensitive political issues of this day and age such as political corruption (The West Wing, 24, Galactica, Law & Order, The Shield, Commander in Chief); the war in Iraq (Over There but also ER or Lost); Hispanic immigration (The Shield, Law & Order – the last season of The West Wing even had the election of a Hispanic democrat to the presidency) or abortion (Desperate Housewives, Galactica, Law & Order). (here)

That is remarkable in many ways.

It also works the other way around: this is after all the country where a Hollywood actor was elected president, where a president staged a victory show that had no basis in reality (Remember “Mission Accomplished”?) and where a TV actor (former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson of Law & Order) whose popularity is partly due to his image of a fictional District Attorney is now considering a run for presidency. Apparently, the line between reality and fiction is blurred to a lot of people.

So what about Jack Bauer ("24") for President?

It is one thing that average Joe can sometimes get confused between fiction and reality, it is yet another when a U.S. Supreme Court Justice uses fiction to shape reality:

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 Judge 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. (Source: Globe and Mail)

In other words, Justice Scalia, the second most senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, is is using fiction to rationalize torture from a legal standpoint.

Now even apart from the moral question, there is obviously an intellectual flaw in Scalia's point - first because torture doesn’t provide useful information, and second because relying on fictional characters to justify real-life crimes has no legal basis. If only Scalia watched better shows, like "That 70s Show", he would do less harm and only advocate for the legalization of marijuana.

And I thought the whole idea of having conservative judges was that they were “strict constructionist”!


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