Lithwick: Put Palin on the Supreme Court

If there is a lesson to be learned about Sarah Palin's dizzying political ascent, it's that America really loathes Washington insiders, especially those tasked with working inside Washington. The surest way to affront the American voter is to offer up a candidate with an Ivy League education, experience inside the Beltway and D.C. connections. If Palin stands for anything, it's that when it comes to both the presidency and Pixar movies, nothing good ever happens until the Stranger Comes to Town. But while our contempt for the Washington life touches everyone in the legislative and executive branches, it's become almost a job requirement at the Supreme Court. This third branch of government is wildly overrepresented by insider lawyers with identical résumés. You can swap out one Ivy League law school for another, but beyond that, the bench is ever more populated by folks like Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Samuel Alito—brilliant men whose chief job experience consisted of work for the executive branch followed by a stint on the federal bench. It's not that these are bad qualities in a jurist. It's just that a court that once included governors and senators and former football stars is now overrun by an elite cadre of mostly male, mostly East Coast lawyers. If ever there were a branch of government crying out for varying life experiences, it's the Supreme Court. And if any branch of government is in need of a mother of five who likes shooting wolves from helicopters, the court is it.

It's not just that Palin would be great for the ever more stuffy Supreme Court. Closer scrutiny suggests that the Supreme Court might actually be a better fit for Palin. Consider her interests: Palin has little background in national security, health care, immigration or foreign policy. Her main concerns have been the hot-button social issues that cannot be settled by fiat in the executive branch. Palin wants to do away with abortion and strongly opposes gay marriage. She supports teaching creationism in schools and believes in promoting religious free expression. These are constitutional issues on which Republican presidents have been thwarted for decades. Since the Supreme Court has often been the lone defender of the rights of women, gay couples and atheists, installing a Sarah Palin there would do far more to undo these things than getting her into the White House.

The office of the vice president may be the place in which Palin's status as the pre-eminent D.C. outsider would be more a hindrance than a help. Whatever your views of Washington insiders, clearly some knowledge of the ins and outs of the Congress, the various agencies, NGOs, and lobbyists, is helpful in a vice president. This kind of granular understanding of how D.C. actually works made both Al Gore and Dick Cheney such powerful vice presidents. Failure to understand it wrecked the political careers of Harriet Miers and Alberto Gonzales.

Palin is well aware of the awesome power of the courts. That's why, when the Alaska Supreme Court struck down a controversial abortion restriction last year by a 3-2 margin, she excoriated them for "legislating from the bench," named a new justice to the court and pushed for the passage of an even harsher version of the same law, explicitly intended—said its sponsor—"to overturn [the Alaska Supreme Court]." Governor Palin understands the fundamental tediousness of constitutional checks and balances. She knows that if a court gets it wrong, you just build a better court.

Finally, Palin has revealed, both as the mayor of Wasilla and then as the chief executive of Alaska, a style of governance that features the not-infrequent firing of dissenters. Among the growing list of those dismissed or threatened with removal on Palin's watch were Mary Ellen Emmons, the Wasilla town librarian and vociferous opponent of Palin's proposal to dabble in book banning, and John Bitney, Palin's legislative director, who was dating the not-quite-ex-wife of one of her husband's friends. Palin is also the subject of an ethics investigation for firing Walt Monegan, the Alaska Public Safety commissioner, who declined to fire the state trooper divorcing her sister. I can't help but wonder if following two years of scandals surrounding the Bush administration's decision to terminate nine U.S. attorneys for their imagined disloyalty, John McCain might be nervous about a vice president with a proclivity toward doing the same thing. If McCain puts Palin on the Supreme Court, however, she has only a trio of law clerks and a secretary to hire, and each can be vetted for ideological purity.

No fair arguing that Palin isn't experienced enough to sit on the highest court of the land. What matters—far more than experience—is one's unyielding moral certainty, relatability and gender. And Palin has these qualities in spades. Washington's old-boy problem hardly ends at the Oval Office. If ever there were a D.C. institution in dire need of a place to plug in a breast pump, it's the Supreme Court. And Palin has already proven that neither the courts, nor precedent, nor even the Constitution itself will be a match for the force of her will. America has finally found someone suited to put the "law" back into scofflaw, and it's Sarah Palin. McCain shouldn't waste her talents on state funerals.

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