Judy Judy Judy

The more remote choice for Supreme Court

Illustration By Michele Brown

Dubya blew it. He went for pedigree over practicality, ideology over accessibility.

Judge John Roberts, President’s Bush’s nominee to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court, appears to be a bland conservative who, barring an undocumented nanny or illicit toke or two (or maybe an undocumented nanny who likes a toke), looks to be unobjectionable and cryptic enough to survive confirmation. Yet he is clearly from an elite legal sphere, “different from you and me,” to bend the famous F. Scott Fitzgerald quote about the rich.

I wanted someone more like me. Someone less remote. Someone actually within reach of my remote.

I wanted Judge Judy.

As a onetime court reporter who has waded through his share of legalese and minutiae—I sometimes think lawyer-speak was created as a way for the legal community to charge exorbitant fees to regular folks who don’t get it—I have always been disturbed by one thing about American jurisprudence: its lack of prudence, i.e., practicality and single-syllable words.

That’s why, in my mind, there is and was but one perfect choice to replace O’Connor: Judge Judy Sheindlin, buster.

Judge Judy is a practical, no-nonsense jurist who, on a daily basis—in front of a camera, no less—must make split-second decisions with her trademark piercing glare; street-smart New Yawk accent; and well-coiffed, sensible ’do.

Why, just recently, on a single episode, she had to rule on a carpet installer who punched a hole in the wall when he found out his girlfriend was dating one of his friends, and a woman who repossessed an English bulldog when her ex-friend got behind on pet payments. The next day, it was rendering a decision on a mechanic accused of slamming a gate on a customer who allegedly was trying to escape the premises without paying for repairs.

Top that, Mr. Roberts.

In fact, in one week Judge Judy seemingly gavels out more decisions than the Supreme Court makes all year. Roberts, he of the thin judicial record and Harvard blueblood, has been a judge for two years. Judge Judy, she of the lace collar and iron will, has been a judge since Ed Koch—the plainspoken former New York mayor whom I once saw show up at a neighborhood meeting in the Bronx in 1987 to discuss dog poop—appointed her in 1982.

There is (and you knew this line was coming) a lot of punch to this Judy.

I mean, Judge Judy probably would have given a practical and reasoned view on medical marijuana so tight and bright that it would fit on a single rolling paper.

Instead of convoluted opinions and briefs that are anything but, the high court suddenly would have a snappy voice to move things along. A voice that could communicate a working knowledge of American law while being able to communicate to nonworking American couch spuds.

A bridge between the elite and the deadbeat.

And, rather than adding yet another white male, the court would replace a woman with another woman, one who would take no guff from her male colleagues. This is, after all, the woman who coined the term “beauty fades; dumb is forever” and has written several books, including Don’t Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining and Judge Judy Sheindlin’s Win or Lose by How You Choose, a book for families that addresses such pressing dilemmas as what to do when finding a handgun in Dad’s closet and what to say when visiting a friend and your dog takes a dump on his floor.

(Given it is a family book, I guess saying “shit happens” in this situation is not an option. Maybe she got tips from Ed Koch.)

Could you just imagine her reaction to the stuffed shirts who presented interminable arguments before the court?

“Hurry up, buster, we haven’t got all day here. Get to the point or get out. Ginsburg and I are going shopping for a whoopee cushion to put under Clarence’s chair.”

Although she may not have the distinguished career and fancy degrees that Roberts and other appointees before him have, Judge Judy has something better: street smarts. And in one of the aforementioned tomes, um, Pee, she seems to strike a view on family values that is right up Dubya’s alley: “During my years in family court,” she writes, “I have seen a dramatic deterioration in the lives of adults and children. At the same time, there has been a dramatic increase in expensive public programs. We are spending a fortune, and the result is failure. The recipients of these monies are in the same or worse shape than before, and the consequences are all around us:

“More and meaner delinquents.

“More unwanted children.

“More abused children.

“More dysfunctional adults.

“More teenage pregnancies. … By shifting the emphasis from individual responsibility to government responsibility, we have infantilized an entire population.”

Think about it. A no-nonsense judge for the masses—a celebrity, sure, but we don’t seem to have problems putting celebrities in important positions.

I mean, stranger things have happened, such as the time the largest state in the union elected a foreign-born star of mostly so-so movies who hadn’t so much as served on a city council as governor.

And if Chief Justice William Rehnquist follows O’Connor out the door as expected? Well, although I sympathize with his health problems, he has, in the tradition of the president who appointed him (Nixon), always struck me as a bit of a meanie, a non-smiler, not to mention a wee bit inflexible. If O’Connor was the swing vote, Rehnquist was a rusty hinge.

So, when he steps down, just about any judge would work for me: another TV judge, Judge Joe Brown (gotta like a guy whose motto is “defender of womanhood, promoter of manhood”) or Judge Joseph Wapner (even though he is about 112, the fact that he once dated Lana Turner in high school makes him cool in my book). Or maybe another local, à la Justice Anthony Kennedy—my choice would be Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Gary Ransom (he is presiding over a case I am closely following, and I like his style, humor and command of his courtroom). But what about Judge Reinhold (his career could use a boost) or Mike Judge, creator of (and voice provider to lead characters in) Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill?

Judge Butthead. Now that has a ring to it.

Joel Davis is a Sacramento writer and the author of the book Justice Waits: The UC Davis Sweetheart Murders (see www.justicewaits.com).