Pat Buchanan: The Supreme Court Is Way Too Diverse

Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

In 1971, Pat Buchanan wrote a memo to his then-boss, Richard Nixon, advising the president to "stop concentrating on the 'media's minorities' (Blacks, Mexican Americans, Spanish-speaking)" as part of his reelection bid and instead make plays for Irish, Italian, and Eastern European votes. Part of the strategy Buchanan devised was to use a Supreme Court nomination to appeal to Italian Americans. "Give those fellows the 'Jewish seat' or the 'black seat' on the Court when it becomes available," Buchanan counseled.

Forty years later, Buchanan is still clamoring for a Supreme Court with fewer minorities, even as he foretells the death of white America, using some indelicate demographic analysis-cum-butchery to argue that minorities are overrepresented on the high court.

In his new book, Suicide Of A Superpower, Buchanan argues that increased diversity in America, and the concomitant decline of the long-held white majority, is slowly and inexorably destroying the country. He lays much of the blame at the feet of affirmative action programs, and casts the Republican opposition to Sonia Sotomayor's nomination as a long-overdue "backlash" to the "regime of racial and ethnic entitlements."

Opposition to race, ethnic, and gender preferences was behind the thirty-one GOP Senate votes against Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. On the only two previous court nominations by Democratic presidents in forty years, the Senate voted 87-9 for Stephen Breyer and 96-3 for Ruth Bader Ginsburg. To conservatives, the Sotomayor nomination was an Obama declaration that affirmative action is forever. [page 156]

(Buchanan's treatment of Sotomayor in his book is actually tamer than his commentary during her nomination, when he called her an "affirmative action pick," an "anti-white, liberal judicial activist," and a "quota queen" who subscribes to "tribal justice.")

His digs at Sotomayor were just a set-up for Buchanan's broader argument on the ethnic dynamics of Supreme Court nominations, which is fairly confusing and silly. On page 251, Buchanan nods at Nixon and Gerald Ford for being "the last presidents to maintain WASP hegemony on the court" and stays true to his 1971 ethnic analysis, writing:

Even before Nixon, however, Democrats were into the "new" ethnic politics. Most of the older ethnics -- Germans, Irish, Italians, Poles, Slovaks, Greeks -- were out. Since 1940, no Democratic president has named an Irish Catholic to the Court. No Democratic president has ever named an Italian or Polish Catholic. [page 251]

He goes on to ding the Democrats for nominating, since 1962, "one African American, one Puerto Rican, and five Jews. This is the Democratic Party's idea of diversity on the Court. It might also be labeled: no white Christians need apply." But after critiquing the Democrats for ignoring Italians and Catholics, he complains that Bush's nominations of Catholics (one of whom is Italian) left the Court with no Protestants:

In replacing Rehnquist and O'Connor with John Roberts and Samuel Alito, George W. Bush replaced two white Protestants with two white Catholics, one of whom is only the second Italian American nominated. Thus the Court today consists of six Catholics and three Jews, but not a single Protestant for the first time in U.S. history, although Protestants make up one-half of our entire population.

[...]

For the most underrepresented group on the Supreme Court is evangelical Christians. More numerous than Catholics and Jews combined, who hold all nine seats, Evangelicals have not held a single seat in modern times. George W. Bush tried to remedy this with his nomination of Harriet Miers, but failed.[pages 252, 253]

That's all Buchanan had to say about Harriet Miers. You'll recall that Harriet Miers' nomination was scuttled by conservatives who lambasted her as wildly unqualified. You'll also recall that Pat Buchanan disliked the nomination of Sotomayor so much because he considered her an unqualified jurist who was nominated based solely on her background.

Buchanan's landed himself in trouble in the past for this sort of ethnic analysis, most famously when he complained that Elena Kagan's nomination meant that the Court would have way too many Jews, given their percentage of the total population. And it's ridiculous for Buchanan to suggest that the Court has somehow become an experiment in diversity run amok.

Using his own seats-versus-population metric, one immediately notices that white men remain the overrepresented majority on the Court. John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Stephen Breyer represent 55 percent of Supreme Court Justices even though white males account for just 36 percent of the population. Blacks and Hispanics make up a combined 32 percent of the total population, but have just 22 percent combined representation on the Supreme Court.

And, of course, if you stretch the timeline out a bit, you'll see that of the 112 people who have served as a Justice of the Supreme Court, all but six have been white men. That the (very) recent cracks in that power structure are enough to send Pat Buchanan into a sepulchral gloom about the death of America says a lot more about Buchanan that it does the health of the nation.

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