Ep. 163: The Media-Manufactured Mystique of the US Court System

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"John Roberts Passes Test: Politicization of Judicial Appointment is Disheartening," read a 2005 headline from Salisbury, Maryland’s Daily Times. "Ignore the attacks on Neil Gorsuch. He’s an intellectual giant — and a good man," Robert P. George pleaded in The Washington Post in 2017. Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination "is beyond politics," South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn told CBS's Face the Nation in 2022. We hear the same refrains over and over about the US federal court system in general and the U.S. Supreme Court in particular. They’re independent judiciaries. They abide by the Constitution, the rule of law, the law of the land. They follow legal precedent. They’re bastions of integrity and impartiality. It’s reassuring to think of our courts as measured, fair, upholding democracy, and acting in the public’s interest. But history shows that these articles of faith are undeserved. The courts are profoundly political, and they wield power that affects every corner of people’s lives, from healthcare to policing, education to climate. So why is it that The Courts are awarded such mystique? What purpose does it serve to paint them as untouchable and unquestionable, existing outside of politics? And how does this framing stack the deck against those seeking long overdue and radical change to our systems? On this episode, we examine how media have helped manufacture the sense of ennobled secrecy of the Supreme Court and broader so-called "justice system," looking at the ways in which the courts’ power runs counter to the will and needs of the public, the creation of campaigns to feign judicial impartiality and apoliticism, and the American exceptionalism that undergirds popular framings of one of the world’s most reactionary institutions. Our guest is writer Josie Duffy Rice.

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