August 2016 - Justice in the Asteroid Belt

by Justice William W. Bedsworth

My wife often discusses her law school years with the preface that, “Harvard declined my offer of attendance.” In similar fashion, a long line of presidents has declined my offer of service on the United States Supreme Court. Too bad; we both would have fit right in.

Well, one can only take so much rejection. I hereby withdraw my offer of service.

In fact, I withdraw my offer of service and both our offers of attendance. Neither of us will show up at the swearing-in of the next justice. Take that, POTUS Number 45, whoever you may be. See how many people show up once the word leaks out that I won’t be there!

I’m sorry to have to do this now. I know my timing is not good.

If ever the Supreme Court needed a third baseman, this is the time. They’ve been forfeiting games ever since their right fielder was poisoned in Texas six months ago.1 And I can not only go to my left—something this Court has trouble with—I can write a dissent that doesn’t make it sound like I’m angry about being put down on the same planet with a bunch of cretins.2

But I’m afraid I’ve reached the end of my tether. The last straw was when they offered it to Merrick Garland—a man I’m confident offered none of the promises of abject fealty, nonstop toadying, out-and-out bribes, or other emoluments my proffers of service always included.3

Besides, it’s a really crummy job. For one thing, it’s in Washington, D.C. My mother was from D.C., and I’ve visited many times. To my mind, it has not greatly improved since 1790 when Maryland and Virginia generously gave it to the federal government so they wouldn’t have to pay for the swamp drainage themselves.

The climate in The District cannot be described without using the adverb “too.” Too hot, too humid, too cold, too damp, “too June.”4 And from July to October, it’s considerably less habitable than Mercury. For those months, the Supreme Court just packs up and leaves town.

Its only saving grace is that after forty-five years as a professional writer, it has given me my first chance to use the adjective “miasmic.”

Nor is the location the only drawback. If you’re a Supreme Court justice, your professional universe is smaller than a Norwegian quinceañera. And the other eight are apparently not easy to get along with: one refuses to speak to lawyers—so he probably wouldn’t like me—and none of them can keep a clerk longer than a year. I, by contrast, have gone through only four clerks in nineteen years.5

So you’re working in the legal equivalent of Chester’s Mill, Maine.6 And when you step outside the bubble, people start shouting at you that you’re despots. They print up signs that say people like you who aren’t accountable to the voters shouldn’t be making these big constitutional decisions. The signs say “WHO ELECTED THEM!!??” and “NINE OLD DICTATORS.”

The sign-makers are people who loudly profess their allegiance to the Constitution, yet seem not to know that the whole reason the Supreme Court exists is so someone not accountable to the voters can ride herd on the myopic knuckleheads they keep sending to the miasmic capital.7 Because of them, if you become a Supreme Court justice, large people in black suits and short haircuts follow you everywhere you go, talking into their sleeves and frightening everyone else at the laundromat.

And, of course, the knuckleheads are not kind to you, either. You are, after all, essentially herding these people. And being herded is annoying. In the entire history of the American West, there is not a single incidence of cattle and cowboys bonding.8

The only good news is that the knuckleheads are not around much.9 Their schedule calls for them to be in session 111 days this year. A hundred and eleven. If you can find another job that requires you to work only two days a week and comes with franking privileges, let me know. Offhand, I’d say it sounds better than the Supreme Court gig, and I might want to offer my attendance.

Of course, on the 111 days Congress is in session, they have a ton of important stuff that keeps them too busy to worry about the Supreme Court. That’s how it is that I’ve had months to decide to withdraw my name from consideration: They’ve been unable to get around to filling the Supreme Court opening.

How could it be that a body that meets two whole days a week and doesn’t even vote unless they know ahead of time that the outcome is going to be something they like might be short on time? Well, ours is a country with many problems.

For example, last month they were deliberating about what to do in case an asteroid threatened to wipe out the planet. Specifically, one of their number wanted to make sure they did not include any gay people if they had to choose a crew for a space station.


A man who was elected to Congress wanted to make sure his country didn’t make the tragic mistake of putting any gay people on a space station if an asteroid came hurtling toward the planet. No word yet on his thoughts about how to do battle with the Death Star or whether Jean-Luc Picard could outshoot James Tiberius Kirk.

I could call him out on this by giving his name, but I’m afraid it would look too much like a political commentary if I did that. Just Google “Congress gays space station” if it really matters to you which congressman got paid for such blithering claptrap.

The point isn’t that there is someone in Congress worrying about gays in space.

The point isn’t even that we may be better off with these guys only working 111 days a year.

The point is that at a time when we’re struggling with serious issues like terrorism, immigration reform, racial and religious bigotry, prohibitively expensive education, and infrastructure deterioration, our part-time governing body chooses to discuss doomsday asteroids and gays in space.

Good luck to the next Supreme Court justice. I’m relieved that it’s not going to be me. I don’t know jack about asteroids.


  1. (1) I did not know he had been poisoned until I went through the line at the market and read it in one of the headlines. Imagine my embarrassment; I’m supposed to be an insider.
  2. (2) Something this court has not had trouble with since February, but—given the generally more combative nature of all government debate in the Twenty-first Century—it may once again struggle with in the future.
  3. (3) Lord only knows how much mowing the White House lawn will cost now that my offer’s been rejected.
  4. (4) That’s how Mom explained why we always went in May.
  5. (5) Turns out there are people who get tired of ice hockey and country music. Who knew.
  6. (6) What, you don’t read Stephen King? Under the Dome.
  7. (7) I’m not saying they’re knuckleheads—I wouldn’t say that—but a lot of people do. I’ve learned this rhetorical construction from the Donald Trump campaign.
  8. (8) Sheep are, of course, another story, but I’m not going there, and you shouldn’t either. Besides, I’m not saying congresspersons are sheep. I wouldn’t say that . . . but a lot of people do. See footnote 7.
  9. (9) They must have talked to my mom. They leave town in the summer, too.

William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. He can be contacted at william.bedsworth@jud.ca.gov. And look for his new book, Lawyers, Gubs, and Monkeys, through Amazon and Vandeplas Publishing.