Randall Kennedy has been a contributing editor of the Prospect since 1995. He is the Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard University and is completing a book on race relations and the Obama presidency.
Many people believe that we are in the midst of what Stephen L. Carter calls a "civility crisis." Judith Rodin, the president of the University of Pennsylvania, calls it a "nuclear explosion of incivility." Newspapers and magazines publish articles with titles like "Civility in Politics: Going, Going, Gone" (New York Times) and "Whatever Happened to Good Manners?" (Washington Post). And even public opinion polls report that between half and three-quarters of the public believes that incivility is a serious social problem.
The confirmation of John Ashcroft as attorney general conjoins fearsome power with reactionary politics. The attorney general makes crucial decisions regarding the administration of justice that are beyond the power of the press, Congress, the White House, or the courts to oversee effectively on an ongoing basis. And Ashcroft, despite his sudden amiability and professed concern with protecting the rights of all Americans, remains a militant--indeed, truculent--right-winger. He is hostile to women's reproductive rights and to the aspirations of gays and lesbians who seek equitable treatment.
Guinier's critics were only half right. She is a political radical--but no quota queen. As a constitutionalist, she was neither separatist nor undemocratic. She would have gotten along nicely with James Madison.
When President Clinton abandoned Lani Guinier, she became the latest in a string of jilted appointees dumped once controversy arose. Guinier, who was nominated as head of the Justice Department's civil rights division, was a respected civil rights lawer, legal theorist, and Friend of Bill, whom she has known since their days at Yale Law School. Why ultimately did he abandon her nomination? What in her writing as a University of Pennsylvania Law School professor prompted such bitter opposition? Did the president err in nominating her-- or withdrawing her nomination? What is the meaning of this affair in the ongoing struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party?
Four of the nine justices currently on the Supreme Court are at least 65 years old. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the last of the Nixon appointees, is 75. Justice John Paul Stevens, a Ford appointee, is 79. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a Reagan appointee, is 69. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Clinton appointee, is 66 and recently underwent surgery for colon cancer.