Palin and the activist court

Maybe the reason Sarah Palin can't name Supreme Court cases she opposes is because the bench is so reactionary.

Published October 2, 2008 12:42PM (EDT)

There is going to be a lot of focus on Sarah Palin in War Room today because -- let's be honest -- talking about the nation's financial situation is far too depressing and, of course, it's not every day that we have a vice-presidential debate featuring Sarah Palin!

As an opening salvo, consider this surreal possibility: By now, in the wake of the release of the Katie Couric interviews, expectations for Palin's performance Thursday night are so low that the Alaska governor will have to really muck things up to fail to meet such low expectations. In case you have been living in a cave the past 24 hours and haven't seen it already, here is the video of Palin failing to name a single Supreme Court case other than Roe v. Wade to which she objects:

Watching her response makes one wonder if Palin could have cited a single case if Couric had followed up by asking, conversely, if the moose-dressing governor could name a Supreme Court ruling with which she agreed. (Perhaps Palin would have cited Bush v. Gore, the decision that catapulted another incurious person who knows little to nothing about public affairs into national office.)

At the risk of coming to Palin's aid, here is a more charitable view of her answer: In the post-William Rehnquist era in which Palin has come of age, there just aren't that many recent Supreme Court rulings for conservatives to oppose. Indeed, though conservatives whine about "judge-made" law and the "liberal, activist" court, as scholars like Thomas Keck have chronicled, the fact is that the court these past three decades has been an activist but conservative court -- overturning legislative precedents at "unprecedented" rates.

Though they will continue to whine anyway, facts be damned, there just aren't many Supreme Court rulings of late that conservatives like Palin can complain about.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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2008 Elections Sarah Palin War Room