A wise man in a hole, as we know, stops
digging. An honest man admits his mistakes, with grace, and gets on
with life. Peter Faris does neither. On Friday Faris responded to my
criticism of his error-riddled story about the US Supreme
Court (20 July, Crikey Daily) and tried to hide his
mistakes by dissembling and unfairly denigrating my
professional integrity. I am obliged to set the record straight on all

Faris falsely tried to characterise
his mistakes as mere differences of opinion between he and I. They
are not. They are differences of fact.

Faris said the differences arose because
he is “from the right” and I am “from the left.” His argument might have stood some chance if
he was right about my politics, but he’s wrong. He wouldn’t have a clue about my politics. For the record, and not that it’s any
of his business, nor should it matter, but I support free-enterprise
(neo-liberal?), oppose nanny-state Big Government (libertarian?), and believe
deeply in the rule of law and Parliamentary democracy (Burkean

Having concocted a political
position for me, Faris then attacks my professionalism as a journalist by
implying that I’m biased, and my account of the politics on the US Supreme
Court is not to be relied on because it’s merely a partisan perspective. That
is a grave allegation, and one Faris must withdraw, preferably with a suitable
apology. (And quick about it, if you don’t

Let me count the ways that is not
true, and set the record straight for Crikey readers who’ve been misled by
Faris. Ronald Reagan did not say (as Faris reported) that appointing Sandra Day
O’Connor was “his greatest mistake” – I correctly attributed that comment to
Eisenhower referring to William J. Brennan. If Reagan repudiated her appointment
in any form, or expressed great disappointment in her, now is the time for Faris
to substantiate his assertion.

Faris then tries to squib this point by saying that “all US presidents
have said a Supreme Court nomination was their “greatest mistake” at
one time or another.” That would be a bit difficult since not all US
presidents have made a Supreme Court appointment. And if Faris has
knowledge of such comments by Bill Clinton of his nominees Ginsburg and
Breyer, then again, he ought to share the references to them.

Faris further tried to squib it on Friday by saying: “The point is that
O’Connor was a great disappointment to those who appointed her” and
falsely claimed that O’Connor “came from the right and moved a long way
left” after her appointment. Wrong again. O’Connor was viewed as a
moderate when appointed and that remained the view of her when she
retired from the bench – “moderate Republican” in fact. Perhaps Faris
has forgotten (if he ever knew) that O’Connor was on the majority that
“stole” (according to the left), the 2000 US election by deciding it
for George Bush in the case of Bush v Gore over the Florida recount.
Just one of many O’Connor decisions that no conservative was ever in
the least disappointed by.

Faris also falsely reported: “It
was widely thought that Bush would make a PC choice – either a
woman (to replace a woman) or a black man.” Didn’t happen. I follow the widest
possible spectrum of US media for professional reasons, and noticed no clamour
in conservative circles for “a PC candidate.” The main focus of
speculation about the replacement overwhelmingly centred around the possible
appointment of Alberto Gonzales.

Faris does concede that the phrase “left-liberal” to describe a voting
bloc on the court is his own creation, and says that he’s sticking with
it. Fine, but it’s wrong and meaningless to court watchers. If Faris
wants to accurately describe the make-up of this important institution
to Crikey readers, shouldn’t he be required to be, well, accurate, and
use terms that are meaningful outside his own personal universe?

Faris then said on Friday: “The whole point of my article is that the “neo-soc” (read
liberal) establishment in America is faced with losing control
of the USSC.” The whole point of Faris’s article is wrong then, because the
liberal establishment does not control the Supreme Court. O’Connor is widely
described (including by Faris) as being a swing vote on the court. If the
liberals rule, it logically follows there are no blocs to swing between. Oh, and
if the liberals are in control, how come Bush made it to the White House,
courtesy of the Supreme Court. Odd behaviour for a liberal institution, no?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey