The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

balls and strikes

In his introductory statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Supreme Court Chief Justice nominee John Roberts used a baseball metaphor to explain how he sees his role as a judge. He's an "umpire." As he put it in Monday's opening statement:

"Judges and justices are servants of the law, not the other way around. Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire... I will remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat."

It's an appealing metaphor, one we like to hear. He's not going to be involved in the game; he's a disinterested observer. But last night I caught a repeat telecast of the "Justice Sunday 2: May God Save This Honorable Court!" program put on by the Family Research Council (the hour-long, evangelical-aimed telecast meant to support Roberts' nomination and to generally put forth a conservative Christian take on the Supreme Court) and I heard that same metaphor used by Tony Perkins, the FRC's leader:

"MR. PERKINS: Now how many baseball fans do we have here tonight? (Applause.) Well, you know, I thought I might use a baseball analogy to illustrate what the Court has done to our Constitution. I mean, I used to be a big fan of the Big Red Machine when I was a kid, and I remember Johnny Bench behind the plate with the umpire over his shoulder calling the strikes when they were within the bounds of the plate within the zone. But you know, if a pitch was to the right or to the left, it was no good. It was a ball.

You know what the Court has done is that they have -- when it comes to the social issues of our day, they've expanded the plate so that when the Court wants to take in the issue - (laughter) - of abortion - I mean, think about it. The Court has expanded the Constitution to include the right to kill unborn children. They've expanded the plate so that they can find this right to homosexual sodomy. What they've done is they've taken what the Constitution gave the legislature the right to say is a wild pitch and they've called it a strike.

But at the same time, when it comes to our religious freedoms, what they've done is they've taken this plate and they've made it even smaller, and they've said our children don't have a right to pray. And they said, when it comes to marriage, they're trying to redefine the institution of marriage. And it gets harder and harder to get a strike. Friends, there's a lot at stake in this debate - our religious freedoms, the future of this country. This is one we cannot pass up."

Perkins even had two prop home plates--one giant one for the sodomites and one little one, pieces of which he broke off, for "us" and "our children."

In his political campaigns, Pres. Bush has often relied on coded language, terms that evangelicals will understand as referring to their priorities but that non-evangelicals don't see as being ideologically inflected. Terms like "culture of life," "wonder-working power," and the reference to Dred Scott in the 2004 debate signal ideas to a particular discourse community that others outside wouldn't recognize.

So: is this what Roberts is doing? Is this umpire/balls and strikes comment a shout out to the Family Research Council?

Interestingly, today Sen. Biden took on Roberts' use of the balls-and-strikes metaphor, but he didn't seem to be aware of its use by the religious right.


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