I’ve been thinking the Supreme Court this week. The media coverage of President Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan to the Court has made it virtually impossible not to think about it.
A couple things stand out to me about the composition of the Supreme Court. First, it is a remarkably thin intellectual slice. Should Kagan’s nomination be approved, the court will have three Princeton educated justices (Sotomayor, Alito, Kagan). And all of the justices will possess degrees (either B.A. or law degree, and often both) from an Ivy League school or from Stanford (an Ivy of the West). I realize that SCOTUS is not a representative body and I appreciate that highly educated deep thinkers constitute the court, but such a thin slice of elities on the Court still gives me some pause.
Second, I’m struck by the careful way that careers are crafted (and increasingly so) produce appointment as a justice. Kagan’s is textbook example. She’s never written anything too partisan. She’s never been a judge and therefore never made any controversial decisions. She’s already being lauded as a consensus builder or coalition builder. As a helpful NY Times profile puts it, “Ms. Kagan’s paper trail is scant, her academic writings painstakingly nonideological.”
The whole thing amounts to a program of forensic self-justification. Unwilling to face contentious confirmation hearings (particularly after the 1987 Bork debacle of and the 2005 Miers spectacle), Presidents carefully vet potential justices, before presenting meticulously airbrushed candidates. Their unsullied pasts make them confirmable, but often vapid and (more importantly) perhaps lacking the experience to judge, well, judiciously.
A Different Way
The message of Christianity offers a different way entirely. The gospel is not about our perfect, unassailable record. It’s about the record of Christ. It’s not about an impeccable history with nary a blot (or a history from which any unseemly parts are expunged or quietly explained). Rather it’s about full disclosure, an airing of our dirty laundry (not before a Senate subcommittee, but before a holy God) because the assured forgiveness of Christ means we’re affirmed even when we’re not perfect.
I realize that the gospel way will not play among Beltway insiders. But for those of us who follow Jesus, it should. We should not pattern ourselves after wannabe justices relying on their spotless and benign records. Instead, we freely admit weakness, blindspots, and mistakes knowing that repentance and trust in the gospel offers second chances and fresh starts. Isaiah’s comfort is ours in Christ: “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”