By Alex H. Nagler
Inauguration fever swept through Washington D.C. and somehow, the city emerged in one piece and successfully sworn in its 44th President. Eleven hours on my feet had left me with a mild feeling of numbness that was successfully counterbalanced by dinner with a former Press staffer and a decent night’s sleep. The real reason I had come down to Washington would be the next day, and unlike the inauguration, it would not be televised. I, after years of admiration, months of study, and an entire January devoted to an Excel spreadsheet, would be attending oral arguments at the Supreme Court of the United States.
Ever since the year 2000, when the election was arguably decided by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision, I’ve been interested in the operations of the nine robed individuals who sit atop the highest bench in the land. Unbeknownst to me when I arrived, Stony Brook is home of one of the preeminent Supreme Court scholars, Dr. Jeffrey Segal. Subsequently, most of my studies within the Political Science Department have been tempered by his influence on the department, and therefore, interested in the Court. It came as a surprise to me when the Supreme Court’s docket revealed not just one, but three cases up for oral argument on January 21. I realized there was no way I’d make it to the early morning cases, so I decided it was my best bet to make it to the 1P.M. case, Nken v. Phillips.
I got to the Court around 11A.M., when the second case was already under way. Waiting on line, I ignored the groups of students who were here mainly because their tours of Congress hadn’t gone through or the museums were too crowded. After the noon lunch was over, we filed in and were checked by security. Then the “oyez”s started and we were seated.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a lot more frightening in person and nowhere near as cuddly as I imagined her. Clarence Thomas looks like the Court bores him.
After the case was over, I went down to the lunchroom and museum to take pictures of things, but then I recalled the gallery of Chief Justices in the main level. Here, marble busts of all the Chief Justices of yesteryear, sans Chief Justice Rehnquist. Among these august busts is that of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney.
Roger Taney did some good things as Chief Justice. He fought against President Lincoln’s repeal of the writ of habeas corpus in Ex parte Merryman, sided with the majority in the Amistad case and made major impacts to the commerce clause. However, he is also best remembered for one of the most shameful chapters of Supreme Court history.
Roger Taney wrote the opinion for Dred Scott, proclaiming slaves to be “of an inferior order and altogether unfit to associate with the white race.” Regardless of these words, he has a bust in the chamber of the Court. Some have joked it should be removed, or even ceremoniously smashed. I have no such power to do that, so I did the next best thing. In the hall of the Supreme Court chambers, I gave Roger Taney the one-fingered salute of my generation. I flipped him the bird.
Chief Justice Taney, we’ve elected one of those people you claimed to be inferior president. In your view, the new Attorney General is unfit to associate with “the white race.” That’s why, with all due respect, sir, I told you to go fuck yourself.