Supreme Court

Did John Roberts Foreshadow His ObamaCare Decision With a Reference to a 1927 Oscar Winning War Movie?


Is there no one in charge at the Department of Close Readings? The Wall Street Journal, which today recalls an instance in which an odd movie reference from Supreme Court Justice John Roberts may have foreshadowed his eventual decision to uphold ObamaCare, has either stumbled onto a weirdly telling anecdote the Chief Justice or slow-news-week SCOTUS Kremlinology has gotten completely out of hand. Here's the story, which took place on May 16 at the Supreme Court musicale, which is apparently "an annual event where prominent musicians serenade the justices": 

When the concert ended, Chief Justice Roberts rose to offer parting words. After the customary thanks to the participants, however, he pivoted to a seeming non-sequitur, noting that Justice Ginsburg had scheduled the event on what he deemed an auspicious date, the 83rd anniversary of the first Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood.

The top prize, he recalled, had gone to "Wings," a semi-silent film about World War I flying aces. The chief justice relayed the rarely-screened picture's plot in remarkable detail. The story involves two American flyboys, Jack (Charles "Buddy" Rogers) and David (Richard Arlen), hometown pals in a kind of love triangle with Mary, an ambulance driver played by Clara Bow.

The climactic sequence, the chief justice recounted, sees David shot down behind enemy lines. Surviving the crash, he steals a German plane and flies it toward the American base — only to be spotted by his Jack, then hell-bent on making the Jerries pay for downing his buddy. Not realizing it's David in the enemy cockpit, Jack shoots down the German plane, killing David. Jack will carry forever his guilt for the tragic error.

Despite Chief Justice Roberts's affection for cinema, the apparently random disquisition left many who had come to hear Brahms mystified. Yet the chief justice clearly wanted his audience — including seven of his eight colleagues — to reflect on this narrative wholly unrelated to the musical program.

At the reception that followed, a Wall Street Journal correspondent suggested that there must be a hidden meaning — an allegory, perhaps, for shifting alliances in the health care case, then under deliberation. The correspondent speculated that the address could indicate that a justice who typically votes in lockstep with another — like, say, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito – somehow had been forced to adopt the enemy's trappings, apparently switching sides in their war to make the world "safe for democracy."

It's a stretch for sure. But given that justices are used to arguing with each other indirectly through their questions during oral arguments, it doesn't strike me as entirely impossible that John Roberts was planting a clue, if only for the other justices. 

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  1. Er....

    Why would Roberts need to plant "clues" for the other Justices about how he voted on the health care bill?

    1. Because he's fucking nuts.

  2. "an annual event where prominent musicians serenade the justices"

    Another 2 Live Crew case?

  3. Who or what is supposed to be Clara Bow's character? America? Michelle (Obama or Bachmann)? Ruth, Elena, or The Kagen? Health care in the generic? Insurance companies?

    1. Clara Bow's character is Mary Preston, initials MP - M is 13, P is 16 (letterwise), which is 29.

      And if you'll remember 29 AD is when Aggripina was exiled by...wait for it...Caligula. Who was portrayed by Malcolm McDowell, who, killed Captain Kirk.

      So, seems pretty obvious to me.

      1. I have to clean coffee out of my keyboard!

      2. Well done.

  4. That stretch is stretchier than the Hulks pants.

    He's just a douche that wiki'd the date, and the wiki'd the dumb movie so he'd have something to run his trap about.

  5. Jesus this is confusing. Who's David in this scenario? Who's Jack? Is the German Plane accidentally shot down the American Constitution? Is the Healthcare bill the bullets used to shoot it down?

    There are so many ways to interpret this.

    1. It's even more confusing when you realize that (a) Wings was one of Ayn Rand's favorite films and (b) that it was one of Gary Cooper's first starring roles and (c) Cooper went on to play Howard Roarke in the film adaptation of Rand's The Fountainhead!

      1. he's a terrible actor and that was a terrible movie

  6. But does Roberts sit next to Alito when reviewing the May Day parade?

  7. That anecdote makes the he's crazy idea more believable.

    1. Either he's off his rocker, or he has become another Washington blowhard who likes the sound of his own voice too much. It's probably a little of both.

  8. Prometheus would have made more sense.

    "Maybe we're better off just not knowing."

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    1. Thanks bopomtXQ, that seems to be the most viable reason for Roberts' speech.

  10. Is there no one in charge at the Department of Close Readings?

    Good God man! How will we make sure people are properly interpreting passages in Ulysses?

  11. "We will not go back to the days when insurance companies pray(sic) on the sick," Obama said. "Six million young people are now on their parents health insurance plans."

    So we'll tax anyone that won't buy insurance from the aforementioned predators. Perfectly logical.

    1. Yeah, not letting people who have been adults for just 8 years to be part of their parents "family" plan is predatory!

  12. John Roberts mimes catching a football.

    "And then I said to him, I know the ball dropped out of his hands and hit the ground before he picked it up, but I'm ruling it legal anyway as a fumble during a handoff."

    1. "So when I found out you can't give a player a 15 yard penalty for having a wife hotter than you, I made it a tax instead."

  13. On the other hand, maybe he just likes really good war movies and was trying to get people to check it out.

  14. So we're the buddy who got shot in the back, and he wants us to believe that he'll never forgive himself while he's getting screwed by the hot chick who is the Beltway Opinionati?

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