I was never a fan of Dahlia Lithwick. Not because she’s a woman.* I couldn’t care less. But because she has proven herself intellectually dishonest, a genderless choice that’s become pervasive among the unduly passionate, more dedicated to serving their cause than trying to be minimally accurate in their writing.
But she made a decision to write about why she won’t be going back to her “beat” at the Supreme Court for all to see, and that raises a very different problem.
The enduring memory, a year later, is that my 15-year-old son texted—he was watching it in school—to ask if I was “perfectly safe” in the Senate chamber. He was afraid for the judge’s mental health and my physical health. I had to patiently explain that I was in no physical danger of any kind, that there were dozens of people in the room, and that I was at the very back, with the phalanx of reporters. My son’s visceral fears don’t really matter in one sense, beyond the fact that I was forced to explain to him that the man shouting about conspiracies and pledging revenge on his detractors would sit on the court for many decades; and in that one sense, none of us, as women, were ever going to be perfectly safe again.
Whether this actually happened or is just a polemic device to serve her cause, that Lithwick thought it a good idea to raise whether she was “perfectly safe” or feared for her “physical health” sets the tone. Not about Kavanaugh, but about Lithwick. This is beyond crazy. Is her message that her son had reason to be concerned that Kavanaugh, during his Senate confirmation hearing, might leap from the table, run over to LIthwick and rape her? Remember, it’s not her son who tells this story, but Lithwick. Why would she relate something so utterly bizarre if not to reflect her own feelings?
Does Lithwick really believe that Kavanaugh is a crazed rapist who will throw her to the ground in dark alley behind One First Street? Why don’t the women on SCOTUS share her fear?
Two of the three female justices spoke out this summer to support their new colleague. They hailed him as a mentor to his female clerks or as a collegial member of the Nine and urged us, in the case of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, to look to the future and turn the page. It is, of course, their actual job to get over it. They will spend the coming years doing whatever they can to pick off a vote of his, here and there, and the only way that can happen is through generosity and solicitude and the endless public performance of getting over it. I understand this.
So the women on the Supreme Court she so admires are whoring themselves for a fifth vote, willing to tolerate this pariah in their midst because it’s “their actual job to get over it”? Even in the depths of her despair paranoia, Lithwick “understands” this. How generous of Lithwick to let Justice Sotomayor off the hook. But that doesn’t mean Lithwick has to “forgive,” as if her forgiveness is very important to the Supreme Court.
I haven’t been inside the Supreme Court since Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed. I’ve been waiting, chiefly in the hope that at some point I would get over it, as I am meant to do for the good of the courts, and the team, and the ineffable someday fifth vote which may occasionally come in exchange for enough bonhomie and good grace. There isn’t a lot of power in my failing to show up to do my job, but there is a teaspoon of power in refusing to normalize that which was simply wrong, and which continues to be wrong. I don’t judge other reporters for continuing to go, and I understand the ways in which justices, judges, law professors, and clerks must operate in a world where this case is closed. Sometimes I tell myself that my new beat is justice, as opposed to the Supreme Court. And my new beat now seems to make it impossible to cover the old one.
I have no idea whether this is just a performance for the sake of the whimpering masses or whether Lithwick’s purpose was to add paranoid delusions to her list of infirmities, but it’s deeply disturbing that such narcissistic irrationality has come out of a pundit who purported to inform the public about the Supreme Court.
My job as a Supreme Court reporter used to be to explain and translate the institution to people locked out of its daily proceedings. I did that reasonably well for 19 years, I suppose.
Law is hard, and “translating” what happens at SCOTUS for the benefit of non-lawyers (“locked out”?) is a pretty big deal, as it’s important that they have at least a serviceable understanding of what the law is. Up to now, most of Lithwick’s writing could be attributed to her the limits of her abilities and her lack of any actual legal experience. Like so many pundits, she told the story as best she understood it. At least that’s what one would suppose.
But her explanation now, of her inability to report on a court because there is a justice whom she refuses to “normalize,” provides a very different explanation. Her shoddy punditry wasn’t merely a product of the shallowness of her experience, as filtered through the excesses of her bias.
Rather, Lithwick reported on the Supreme Court while laboring under a disability that precluded her from a rational grasp of law and the Supreme Court. Thankfully, she’s revealed herself as someone who shouldn’t be a pundit, and probably shouldn’t be allowed to write for Slate at all. There is no calling for someone to write about law through the lens of paranoid delusions. I wish her well and hope she gets whatever treatment will serve to return her to reality, but she has no place writing about law.
*I have every expectation that I will be ripped to shreds for being sexist, as criticizing the feelings of a woman is obviously misogynistic to some. On the other hand, when a woman happens also to be a Supreme Court pundit and writes something outrageously irrational, does she get a free ride because she’s a woman? I believe too strongly in equality to treat Lithwick any differently than I would treat anyone else.