Roe, Wade and mayo

Russell Baker

April 28, 1992|By Russell Baker

THE FOLLOWING is from a cassette tape found under the pantry steps behind the Supreme Court building. Eight distinctive male voices are heard and one female. Fortunately, none can be identified with certainty:

Male Voice One: Did anybody get a pastrami on white with mayonnaise and lettuce? I ordered pastrami with mayo and -- would you look at this revolting sandwich, Chief? Corned beef on rye with mustard. They must think we're writing a Broadway musical here instead of interpreting a Constitution.

MV2: Somebody at that carry-out is itching for a contempt-of-court citation. I ask you, Antonin, just palpate, please, my tuna-on-whole-wheat, hold-the-mayo. They must have had this whole wheat in the cupboard since the Warren court.

MV3, MV4 and MV5 in unison: Impeach Earl Warren! Impeach Earl Warren! Impeach Earl Warren! Impeach . . .

MV6: Oyez, oyez, gentlemen! These negative manifestations, gratifyingly expressive though they be to our distaste for all who would use the court to legislate, must not be allowed to color our considerations of the grave matter before this court.

MV7: That's right. I'm as down on Earl Warren as the next justice, but right now I want something done about this lapse in the lunch service. Look at this: two pizza slices with mushrooms and anchovies, and you know what I ordered?

MV2: Sure. I heard you order. "Two slices with pepperoni," you said.

MV7: I don't want to seem paranoid about anchovies on the pizza, Chief, but it's well known among Washington insiders that I hate anchovies.

Female Voice: Are we going to vote on abortion or are we going to have our local victualer investigated for willful contempt of a carry-out lunch order?

MV3: Vote? What's with vote talk? Except for a couple of old-timers among us -- you know who you are, guys -- our votes on abortion were already counted long before we got here. Let's move on to serious business and ask the FBI to find out who's responsible for stale whole wheat, mustard on the pastrami and anchovies on the pizza.

MV8: I'm worried about the court's reputation. What will occur if we do precisely what all sensible Americans now expect us to do by coming out against abortion? Everyone will say, "What do you expect of a bunch of mugs Reagan and Bush bought with bTC Supreme Court seats for the specific purpose of keeping political promises to stop abortion?"

Female Voice: Are you calling me a "mug"?

MV8: Lighten up, Sandy. I'm saying if we do what everybody suspects Reagan and Bush appointed us to do we'll end up looking like a gang of spineless nerds who got here because we're so weak-willed that we'll dance to the boss' fiddle in order to pay for our robes.

MV6: Hey, you're not talking independent thinking, I hope!

MV5: He's talking integrity. Excuse me, Clarence, but if you're not going to use that ketchup would you slide it down here?

MV1: Gosh, I don't think I could ever look Ed Meese in the eye again if I let integrity make me do something he wouldn't approve of.

MV7: Is Ed Meese something like an anchovy?

MV6: Ed Meese, my distinguished juridical colleague, is the great attorney general without whom few of us would be here today struggling to save America from legislating by the courts.

MV4: Well it wasn't any Ed Meese that got me here, pal. It was George Herbert Walker Bush, a great anti-abortionist who used to be a great pro-abortionist before an opportunity to pick up a vice presidency in an otherwise unpromising year taught him the wisdom of a timely change of principle.

MV8: My point exactly, lady and fellow mugs. The road to the top of the great American governmental structure goes through many a timely change of principle.

Will it not make this honorable court look less obsequious and worthier to wield great power if, in deciding this abortion business, we choose not to play the flunky to mere presidents, but to do as presidents do and think first of our own convenience?

(Sounds of consternation are audible on the tape, which ends after a male voice announces a recess while someone identified as "Sandy" is sent out for hot dogs.)

Russell Baker is a columnist for the New York Times.

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