Thursday, November 16, 2006

Who the hell are they?!?

Mississippi lawyer Michael Wallace, Bush's nominee to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, was unanimously rated "not qualified," the lowest ranking on the scale, by the American Bar Association. This is rare for federal nominees, and, needless to say, does not bode well for his appointment.

I am amused and bewildered by Trent Lott's response. In The Hill , he had this to say:

“It’s just outrageous what [they] did...Who are they to decide who’s qualified and who isn’t?"

I believe we covered that; they're the American Bar Association, the governing organization for those who deal with the law, like judges. Now I'm no proponent of lamb-like deference to authority, but if the American Medical Association rated a surgeon as "unqualified," I would be uninclined to go under their knife.

Granted, Trent Lott is a lawyer, and I will assume that he knows a good deal more than I do about what qualifies a judge for a federal position. But he's also a prominent Republican, the former Senate Majority Leader and now Minority Whip (I bet he's always wanted to be called the Minority Whip, cuz, y'know... he hates minorities ) with a stake in this political game, and a friend and former colleague of Mr. Wallace to boot! His over-the-top incredulity reminds me of one of my favorite rants in the history of saying dumb things with a mic in your face.

So why we should believe the assertion of an interest-conflicted politician (pardon the redundancy) that the ABA has politicized their unanimous decision, even though they have favorably reviewed other highly conservative and controversial Bush appointees like Roberts and Alito, well that's anybody's guess.

I think this is an example of how the culture of anti-intellectualism takes our notion of democracy a step too far. A great deal of our country despises being told that someone else knows better, at least if that someone disagrees with them. A few weeks ago, a scientist I know was thrown in jail for contempt of court. He was offering testimony as an expert witness, and when something he said was disputed, the judge took umbrage at the fact that he resolutely claimed his position to be authoratative. The obvious question is: Isn't that what expert witnesses are supposed to do?

Whether it's global warming skepticism or intelligent design being taught in schools, people seem to think that democracy means everyone's opinion is equal, or even worse, that "might makes right". It does not. It means that every person is equal in a moral sense, and that their opinions should be entitled to equal consideration a priori, but it does not mean that opinions that are not supported by facts are equal to those that are. While the majority of a town may believe that evolution is false, this does not affect the truth of that assertion. The question has an objective answer, and even though experts may not always know what that answer is, if they are not to be trusted, then who? To paraphrase someone I have never quoted outside of a punchline, you make decisions with the best information available. But for those who resent the perceived arrogance of the literati, I want to be very clear about what I'm saying. My position is not one of presumption and hubris, or an advocation of a power-grab for the technocracy. It is in fact the most humble of appeals. I ask simply, If an expert opinion is worth only as much as anybody else's, is there such thing as expertise at all?