During PBS's coverage Wednesday of the Senate hearing with Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, analysts ridiculed the concern of some conservative Senators over the Supreme Court's recent eminent domain ruling and mocked the role of naive talk radio hosts. During a break at about 4:45pm EDT, Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant was befuddled by "the vigorous nature of this opposition to a rather mundane eminent domain case from New London, Connecticut, this Kelo thing. I mean, as you know, this issue has been around for decades, especially connected with urban renewal." New York Times columnist David Brooks pointed out that "talk radio exploded on this issue, and it was a big popular issue." That prompted NewsHour reporter Ray Suarez, host of the roundtable, to take a slap at talk radio: "Well, when eminent domain was remaking the face of cities across America, there really was no talk radio, and that may be a big change in the United States." Also, in his Tuesday column, Oliphant proposed that while Roberts may know the law, "there is almost no evidence of his understanding of justice."
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As they sat in the Arlington, Virginia studio of WETA-TV, Suarez cued up Oliphant at 4:43 EDT on September 14:
"Tom, what are people who have been portraying themselves as opponents of Judge Roberts' nomination and confirmation see at stake right now?"
Tom Oliphant, Boston Globe: "Well, what's interesting -- to me, anyway -- has been the much greater concentration on the social issues on the left side of that committee table than on the right. I mean, okay, defending the right to choose is a big deal and will be so for the next decade. I suspect it'll probably exist after another decade, though we're uncertain about what the form is. What surprised me today, given that Senators and Congressmen often will just simply reflect the heat they get from their constituents, is the vigorous nature of this opposition to a rather mundane eminent domain case from New London, Connecticut, this Kelo thing. I mean, as you know, this issue has been around for decades, especially connected with urban renewal. It's the primary reason our sainted Brooklyn Dodgers became the Los Angeles Dodgers. But all the way down that side, the younger ones especially, who maybe aren't quite as used to the heat and the bright lights, were reflecting this. And Roberts was really pushing back, I thought. Much as he wouldn't give, he wouldn't talk to them about when life begins or when it ends, but he also was trying to explain to them, you know, almost like 'read the Kelo decision.' There was a very explicit connection there with the eminent domain involved with an urban redevelopment plan for the area as a whole. And there wasn't anything all that special about it, really, and I think he expressed some mystification, that I felt here, and I think what Brownback, Coburn, I heard Lindsey Graham, too, I think were reflecting were younger Senators who got a lot of heat on an issue that they weren't expecting and reflected it."
David Brooks: "Well, this could be the difference in 'big C' and 'small C' conservatives because certainly when that case came down, talk radio exploded [Oliphant in background: "It did."] on this issue, and it was a big popular issue. And this could be another case where Roberts is not exactly in the movement. He has some of the same ideas, but he's not in the movement the way really Thomas is and Scalia is and certainly Bork is."
Suarez: "Well, when eminent domain was remaking the face of cities across America, there really was no talk radio, and that may be a big change in the United States.
Oliphant: "Well, they had meetings and demonstrations and people threw eggs and things like that. But it was a huge deal. And taking land -- with compensation, of course -- for the benefit of another private party is hardly unique. This has been going on for decades. The UDAG grants and their parking garages and all the rest of it."
Suarez, referring to the man who bought Manhattan for $24: "Peter Minuit."
Oliphant resurrected a term, "New Right," not heard in decades: "Exactly right. So the discovery of this on the New Right is an interesting perhaps sociological phenomenon, but I'm not quite sure it's all that significant a constitutional phenomenon."
Oliphant’s September 13 Boston Globe column, "The stealth appointee," began:
John Roberts is poised to win confirmation as the next chief justice of the United States because, among other things, he knows the law cold. But after one of the most near-perfect, resume-punching voyages ever to the Supreme Court, there is almost no evidence of his understanding of justice.
This has nothing to do with the overwhelming odds of his confirmation by the Senate. It does, however, have something to do with how his possibly routine elevation should be received.
To illustrate, I have no doubt that his encyclopedic knowledge of constitutional history includes a detailed understanding of Plessy v. Ferguson, the landmark abomination that enshrined segregation in 1896 for another 58 years under the delusional mantra of ''separate but equal." It wouldn't surprise me if Judge Roberts could quote sentences from Justice Henry Brown's majority opinion on behalf of eight brethren and even from John Harlan's passionate dissent.
But I doubt very much that Roberts knows beans about Homer Plessy, and I can imagine him being tripped up even if asked Plessy's first name. It is that human face of justice, or injustice, that concerns me, and, from the available record anyway, has never interested Roberts....
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