Many people who write about legal stuff (including Dahlia Lithwick, whom I LUVVVV) dissed the Supreme Court's decisions this week in two cases about the display of Ten Commandments monuments because the Supremes focused on the oovy-groovy standard of what the state's intent was in posting them. In Dahlia's words,
Establishment Clause jurisprudence remains a matter of divining the unknowable secrets lurking in the hearts of sometimes long-dead government officials.She found Justice Souter's opinion in one of the cases particularly objectionable because he purported to have figured out the "original purpose" of the Kentucky officials who put up a framed poster of the commandments, while dismisisng arguably conflicting evidence:
Now, like I said, Dahlia is my idol, but I think she missed the genius of Souter's opinion: it's a clever reference to a classic Seinfeld episode, "The Wig Master."
Justice David Souter, who authored the majority opinion in McCreary, found that the original purpose of the Kentucky county officials was impermissible, given that they openly admitted to framing the Decalogue in part "in remembrance and honor of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Ethics" and in solidarity with Alabama's crusading Judge Roy Moore. This purpose even canceled out later statements of purpose that were religiously neutral. So, counties' subsequent efforts to cure the overtly religious purpose of the display (by tacking secular "foundational" documents such as the Magna Carta and the Mayflower Compact onto the display) do not erase the original, overtly religious purpose.
A brief synopsis: Jerry is looking at a "crested blazer" at a schmancy store, and the salesguy who's showing it to him hits on Elaine. Jerry buys the blazer, but then gets increasingly pissed about the hitting-on, so he tries to return the blazer. However, when the store people ask him why he wants to return it, he says, "For spite," and then they won't let him return it. He tries to change his mind, but the manager responds with the classic, "You already said spite." Here it is (thanks, Stan the Caddy):
Jerry: "Excuse me I'd like to return this jacket."
Teller: "Certainly. May I ask why?"
Jerry: "........For spite..."
Justice Souter's opinion in the Ten Commandments thing is a clear homage. Kentucky put up the Ten Commandments and said, essentially, "I'm putting this up to promote Christianity." The courts were, like, "Sorry, our policy is you can't post them purely for Christianity." So Kentucky changed its tune: "OK, then, I want to put them up because I like them." Souter is all: "You already said Christianity--too late!" Genius!
Jerry: "That's right. I don't care for the salesman that sold it to
Teller: "I don't think you can return an item for spite."
Jerry: "What do you mean?"
Teller: "Well if there was some problem with the garment. If it were unsatisfactory in some way, thenwe could do it for you, but I'm afraid spite doesn't fit into any of our conditions for a refund."
Jerry: "That's ridiculous, I want to return it. What's the difference what the reason is."
Teller: "Let me speak with the manager...excuse me .............Bob!"(walks over to the manager and whispers)
Teller "........spite....."(Manager walks over)
Bob: "What seems to be the problem?"
Jerry : "Well I want to return this jacket and she asked me why and I said for spite and now she won't take it back."
Bob: "That's true. You can't return an item based purely on spite."
Jerry:. "Well. So fine then ..then I don't want it and then that's why I'm returning it."
Bob: "Well you already said spite so......"
Jerry: "But I changed my mind.."
Bob: "No...you said spite...Too late."
Lord, that was exhausting. I shall soon return to TomKat to replenish my spirit . . .
supreme court ten commandments seinfeld