On the first day of hearings on Judge John G. Roberts Jr.’s nomination to Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, before a Russell Senate Office Building Caucus Room overflowing with members of the media and Congressional staffers, with klieg lights shining and flashbulbs popping all around, and with seventeen other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee arrayed beside him, Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn busied himself with a crossword puzzle.
On April 7, five months prior to this hearing, Michael Schwartz, Coburn’s chief of staff, told me, “Tom doesn’t know anything about this judiciary stuff, so I’m feeding him piles and piles of memos every day.” Though Schwartz didn’t specify the nature of his memos to Coburn, I assumed they were made up of primers on legal jargon and history, not word games, puzzles or other such brainteasers.
I met Schwartz outside a downtown Washington hotel, where a gathering of Christian-right activists called “Confronting the Judicial War on Faith” was taking place. In a speech earlier that day, Schwartz told conference attendees he favored “the mass impeachment of judges” and denounced the Supreme Court for giving Americans “the right to commit buggery.” Later, while a think tank researcher and I accompanied him to the Dupont Circle subway station, coincidentally located in the heart of one of America’s most vibrant gay neighborhoods, Schwartz held forth with his vision for the judiciary.
At the very beginning of our conversation, before I could even introduce myself, Schwartz exclaimed, “I’m a radical! I’m a real extremist. I don’t want to impeach judges. I want to impale them!”
Schwartz struck a slightly more even-tempered tone when discussing Senator Arlen Specter, a socially moderate Republican who had become the bete noire of the Christian right since assuming the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee. “Specter is the Great Satan, of course,” Schwartz remarked. “But still, I’d rather have him as committee chair than [Utah Republican Senator] Orrin Hatch, because Specter knows how to terrorize the opposition.”
Schwartz expressed dismay over a former colleague, Tom Jipping, who has become one of the Christian right’s point men in the judicial nomination battles. “Tom’s great,” he said, recalling their days together at right-wing think tanks the Free Congress Foundation and Concerned Women for America. “But he’s wrong about judges. He just wants better judges,” Schwartz said mockingly.
So what kind of judges did Schwartz want? Borrowing a common right-wing analogy Roberts would later use in his opening remarks before the Judiciary Committee, I asked him if he wanted judges to behave like umpires, ruling on cases like balls and strikes. “I don’t want umpires,” he declared with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I want to get them out of the way.”