Anonymous Tip: Supreme Court 101

Anonymous Tip: Supreme Court 101 October 21, 2016

A Review Series of Anonymous Tip, by Michael Farris

Pp. 407-413

This week we’ll have a mix of three things—more on Peter and Gwen’s upcoming nuptials, confirmation that Peter is not the lawyer he thinks he is, and a few thoughts on Farris’s view of police and civil liberties.

We’re told that “fifteen minutes” after we left off last week—with Gwen’s acceptance of Peter’s proposal and some purely passionate kissing—Gwen and Peter leave Peter’s office positively shining. Hmm. Fifteen completely unchaperoned minutes alone in an closed office. Interesting. Anyway, Joe and Sally are taken aback, first by their cheeriness—“I’d say you two are taking this loss in the Ninth Circuit surprisingly well,” Joe stammered—and then by their engagement—“Fiancé? Fiancé?” Sally’s mouth was agape.

“Yes, this surely sets the record for the best showing of appreciation I have ever had from a client on the day I lost their case,” Peter said smiling.

Gwen laughed softly and cuddled closer to Peter’s side.

This is so inappropriate. Peter is joking, here, about the fact that Gwen’s his client—I mean didn’t she leave her first lawyer, in some sense, because he told her he’d only continue working her case if she became his “special friend” as a way of showing appreciation? How does no one—and I do mean no one—in this office have a problem with this?!

“I knew it! I knew it! I just knew it!” Sally declared. “It was inevitable with you two. I just wonder what took you so long.”

So . . . long? So long?! They met six months ago, flirted heavily but never dated, and then got engaged right after a big fight. How is “what took you so long” a realistic response here?

“Congratulations to both of you!” Joe said, beaming. “If you had to choose between winning the case or winning the girl, I think you chose the right one.”

WTF. This is actually exactly the choice Gwen’s first lawyer made—he threw her case so that he’d have the chance to go on being her lawyer, and thus worm his way into her pants. Now granted, Peter didn’t throw Gwen’s case, but does Farris have no ability to introspect here?

Peter says they’re still going to take the case to the Supreme Court. The next section is a phone call between Farris and Charles French, the law professor at the University of Michigan that Joe knew. But first, Peter took the rest of the day off to talk to Gwen’s parents. Which amounts to the whole day off, because if you remember, Gwen came in at 9:15 am. But if you’re your own boss, I suppose you can do that.

Anyway, the phone call with French, the professor, was arranged, and French was aware of the details of the case when the call began, so Peter didn’t have to bring him up to speed. What’s weird about this entire section, though, is that French has to bring Peter up to speed on how the Supreme Court works. Now yes, most lawyers never argue a case before the Supreme Court. But when French has to tell Peter things that I know about the Supreme Court, and I’m not a lawyer, something weird is going on.

But first, this:

“You are lucky enough to have one great case,” the professor said.

“And that’s only half the story. Just last week I was fortunate enough to get engaged to Gwen Landis.”

“Well, congratulations. But I don’t think I would mention that fact to the Supreme Court.”

“Do you think it’s a problem that I’m marrying her?”

“No, no, no. You just shouldn’t mention it in passing or anything.”

Yes, yes, yes. And furthermore, French knows it’s a problem, because if it wasn’t, he wouldn’t have said anything. French really should be making a call to the Washington state bar association after he hangs up with Farris, but he clearly won’t. He appears to be of the wink wink nudge nudge tradition.

So next French gives Peter Supreme Court 101. I do get what’s going on here. It’s exposition, for the audience. But it makes Peter look like he’s way out of his league on this one. Peter didn’t know the role the justices’ law clerks play, or what takes place when the justices meet to discuss the cases. “Okay, I’m writing that down,” he says at one point. French gives a run-down on the basic philosophy of each justice, which is weird, because this is stuff I know about our current Supreme Court, and I’m no lawyer. And then:

“This is amazing,” Peter said. “How do you know all this?”

Actually, Peter, how did you not know all of this? Again, I get that the goal here is to explain this for the lay reader. But why not do so by having Peter explain it over dinner with Gwen, Peter, and Stan? I suppose maybe I should be relieved—I don’t need to hear Gwen playing dumb blond anymore than I already have (she’s a nurse for crimes sake, you don’t just skate into a job like that).

Let’s change gears for a moment.

For the purposes of this book, Peter has chosen to invent fictional justices rather than going with the real ones. He probably molded these justices after the justices on the bench in 1996, but I don’t have the time to figure out which are which. I did, though, want to touch on a few points I found interesting in the way French describes these justices. French is discussing which justices Peter should gear his petition for a writ of certiorari to, to make sure he catches someone’s eye.

“Winston and Kraus are obviously out. They are both big-time conservatives in the wrong sort of way. They are law and order kind of guys who believe that cops are always right. You’ll never get their votes, period.”

Given the current role of “law and order” in out political rhetoric, and the current discussion of police brutality, this analysis is fascinating. It’s French talking, but clearly it’s Farris’s views that are coming out—his concern about protecting parents against social workers has put him in the skeptical-of-law-enforcement camp, and the in-favor-of-civil-liberties camp. He’s unfortunately let children’s rights drop completely out—do they not have civil liberties too?—but his approach here is fascinatingly in contrast with the position taken by evangelicals like him today.

I did some quick searching and I couldn’t find anything conclusive, but it’s worth mentioning that I’m fairly sure that Farris has said things on Facebook in opposition to Black Lives Matter. I could be mistaken, though, and my readers are encouraged to see if they can find such statements for themselves. It is the case, though, that there are some conservatives who do have concerns about police overreach. Unfortunately, they seem to be currently drowned out by conservatives praising police up and down despite revelations of police brutality.

I’m going to give you the rest of French’s descriptions of the justices because I think it’s instructive when thinking about how individuals like Farris view various judicial theories.

“Geisler is more of a liberal but he hates everything that is traditional. I think he’s one of those liberals who hates parents and believes the government should raise all the children and so on. If you were representing a burglar or a rapist, Heisler would be on your side for sure. But a parent? Probably not.”

This reads like he’s taking an actual position and twisting it such that you almost can’t recognize its original form. It’s a conservative stereotype of liberals.

“Warden, Gilbert, and Swindon are the moderates. I don’t think they really have a judicial philosophy except to be moderate about everything.”

That . . . no, that does not sound right.

“Stauffer and Dowling are liberals—but liberals of a civil libertarian bent. They may love big government, but when big government tramples on an individual’s civil liberties, they usually side with the individual. Rose is the only conservative civil libertarian on the Court. He hates big government. He distrusts any agency that invades spheres of private property, or family, or religion, or gun owners, etc. His philosophy is so clear that I think Rose should be your number one target. But I would be pitching hard to Stauffer and Dowling as well.”

The thing about liberal civil libertarians is that they tend to believe that children have rights too. So while Stauffer and Dowling might be ready to listen to complaints of state overreach, they would be unlikely to overlook the child’s interests at the same time. Perhaps they’d be the sort who would argue that a child like Casey should be brought to the social services headquarters and interviewed on tape (to ensure accountability) in cases where a parent like Gwen refuses entrance to the home, or they might find more narrowly that forcibly strip searching a child is wrong, but that other means should be used to check for bruises. Being not a lawyer myself, I don’t know enough about where exactly the argument would fall, except to be skeptical that a liberal civil libertarian would overlook the civil liberties of children.

Peter’s conversation with French ends as follows:

“Thanks. And congratulations again.”

“I haven’t won yet.”

“Gwen Landis. You won her, right?”

“Yes. And thanks.”

Why did I read that third line in an Alec-Baldwin-interpretation-of-Trump voice?

Speaking of Trump, we return to David G. Humphrey and his poor hapless secretary Cindy next week.


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