Well, here's a revealing Supreme Court decision that tells you all you need to know about what's wrong with the radical right wing Justices of our Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a judge who accepts campaign contributions from a corporate CEO during his/her reelection campaign must recuse him/herself in a case involving that corporation. From the New York Times:

By a 5-4 vote in a case from West Virginia, the court said that a judge who remained involved in a lawsuit filed against the company of the most generous supporter of his election deprived the other side of the constitutional right to a fair trial.

''Just as no man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, similar fears of bias can arise when -- without the consent of the other parties -- a man chooses the judge in his own cause,'' Justice Anthony Kennedy said for the court. . . .

The West Virginia case involved more than $3 million spent by the chief executive of Massey Energy Co. to help elect state Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin. At the same time, Massey was appealing a verdict, which now totals $82.7 million with interest, in a dispute with a local coal company. Benjamin refused to step aside from the case, despite repeated requests, and was part of a 3-2 decision to overturn the verdict.

The wonder is that the company/CEO and judge are not on trial for bribery.

The decision is entirely sensible. (See supporting statement from the Constitutional Accountability Center, which had filed an amicus brief.) You can't have a fair trial without a judge whose impartiality is beyond question. You can't gain respect for the administration of justice if a judge appears to accept payments from those involved in the litigation. It's hard to think of a more important foundational principle to our system of justice.

But the four radical right wing justices don't think that way. According to Justice Robert's dissent (Scalia, Alito, and Thomas also dissenting), we should fear [trying the craft] rules that prevent judges from looking like they've been bribed by litigants with cases before them:

''It is an old cliche, but sometimes the cure is worse than the disease,'' Roberts said. He wrote that it is not clear that Blankenship's money even affected the outcome of the election.

''I would give the voters of West Virginia more credit than that,'' he said.

Both Scalia and Roberts said that the ruling would end up undermining confidence in the judicial system, not enhancing it as the majority contended.

So as we continue the confirmation process of Justice Sotomayor, whose main offense appears to be that she's empathetic to victims of injustice, consider what the radical right is telling America about the views they'd like to see in a Supreme Court Justice:

Shorter conservatives:

1. A fair trial does not require an impartial judge, let alone the appearance of one.

2. We think our courts should be just as corrupt as our legislatures.

3. We think it should be lawful for judges to rule in cases involving their biggest campaign contributors, when those campaign contributors made the contributions knowing their cases were headed for the court.

4. This is called, "strict construction" or not being an "activist" judge or "calling balls and strikes." The Founding Fathers would have approved this.

5. Anyone who disagrees with us suffers from empathy.

6. You were surprised by Bush v. Gore?

Anonymous Liberal: It's Okay to Use a Pseudonym, But Only if You're Important

Over at National Review today, various writers are attempting to defend the indefensible, the decision by their colleague, Ed Whelan, to retaliate at a critic by publishing his identity. Whelan's childish behavior was almost universally condemned yesterday by writers from across the political spectrum. But because he's a fixture at the National Review, his colleagues are trying--not very successfully--to defend his conduct.

My favorite defense so far is this one from Jonah Goldberg. He quotes a reader email that asks: "If it's cowardly to blog anonymously, were Madison, Hamilton, and Jay cowards for publishing the Federalist Papers under the pseudonym 'Publius'?" Goldberg then responds:

Answer: No. Madison, Hamilton and Jay weren't amateur pundits. Seems like a pretty big category error.
After posting this, Goldberg apparently got a number of emails pointing out that Madison, Hamilton, and Jay were in fact "amateur pundits" by any reasonable definition. So he wrote an update to clarify his "larger and more important point":

Madison, Hamilton and Jay were anonymous not because they wanted opine [sic] on the news of the day for fun. They were anonymous because they were heroically successful revolutionaries trying to secure a republic and a constitution. Whatever the merits of this Blevins guy, he ain't Madison, Hamilton or Jay, even if he does call himself Publius. My point was the comparison is silly, and my point stands.
I see, so apparently the way we should determine whether writing under a pseudonym is appropriate is by looking at the actual identity of the writer and judging whether or not that person is important enough to warrant the privilege. Is it possible to make a dumber, less coherent argument?

The whole point of pseudonymous writing is that people don't know who the writer is. They have to judge the writing on its merits, not on the credentials of the writer. That was precisely why Madison, Hamilton, and Jay chose to use a pseudonym. They wanted their ideas to be judged separately from any opinions people had about them personally. If they wanted to cash in on their reputations as "heroically successful revolutionaries," they would have signed their own names to what they were writing.

The "category" distinction that Goldberg is trying to draw, between people whose opinions matter and those whose opinions do not, is the very distinction that the use of pseudonymity is meant to eliminate.

Secondly, the suggestion that someone like Publius' contribution to the general political dialogue in this country is insignificant because he is simply "opin[ing] on the news of the day for fun" is pretty insulting. Publius, like most political bloggers, is attempting to engage and influence the national discussion on those issues he chooses to write about. That's absolutely no different than what Goldberg does (except for the quality of writing and analysis being much higher). And though he has to compete with a great many more voices due to advances in technology, what this Publius was doing is no different in nature from what Madison, Hamilton, and Jay attempted to do with the same pseudonym two hundred years ago. With the hindsight of history, we now know who the original "publius" was and the significance of his (their) writings. But there's no way to apply a "significance" test to the present. There's no way to pick and choose who is worthy enough to write under a pseudonym (because we don't know who they are!). And without knowing the future, there's no way to fairly or reliably judge the relative significance of people's writings.

You either have a political environment in which it is possible to influence the political debate through pseudonymous writing (as was the case in the post-revolutionary period) or you don't. Those are the only two options. And when thin-skinned people like Whelan decide to publish bloggers identities for no good reason, they're pushing us toward the latter.

As an aside, I find it particularly ironic that Jonah Goldberg of all people is mocking someone as an "amateur" because he chose to write under a pseudonym and let his writing do the talking. Goldberg, after all, is someone who has been able to make a living as a professional writer due in no small part to his family name (he's the son of Lucianne Goldberg). Would Goldberg have been nearly as successful if he had chosen to write under a pseudonym and was forced to build a following based solely on the quality and persuasiveness of his prose? Who knows. I do know, however, that there are any number of pseudonymous bloggers (on the right, left, and center) who contribute as much or more to the overall political dialogue in this country than Goldberg does.