Palin and the Supreme Court

PALIN AND THE SUPREME COURT…. Howard Kurtz generated some interest yesterday when he reported that as bad as Sarah Palin’s interview(s) with Katie Couric were, the “worst may be yet to come for Palin; sources say CBS has two more responses on tape that will likely prove embarrassing.”

How much worse could it be? Apparently, one of the problematic responses has to do with the Supreme Court.

The Palin aide, after first noting how “infuriating” it was for CBS to purportedly leak word about the gaffe, revealed that it came in response to a question about Supreme Court decisions.

After noting Roe vs. Wade, Palin was apparently unable to discuss any major court cases.

There was no verbal fumbling with this particular question as there was with some others, the aide said, but rather silence.

Now, as far as I can tell, this portion of the interview hasn’t been aired yet, so it’s hard to know whether it’s excruciating or not. Responding to a legitimate question with pure silence certainly sounds awkward, but it’s hard to say how awful it is until it’s aired.

Putting that aside, though, how embarrassing is it for Palin not to be able to identify Supreme Court rulings other than Roe?

Atrios raised a fair point: “I have some sympathy for Palin. Plenty of members of Congress don’t actually know a damn thing about Supreme Court history or details about particular decisions, but what they do know (usually) is just enough to satisfy the Tom Brokaws of the world and move on to the next topic. They’re trained in the trivia important to the locals, but they don’t actually know anything.”

Quite right. Palin didn’t go to law school, never took an interest in constitutional law, but still probably knows about as much as plenty of lawmakers on the Hill.

But it’s a reminder that Palin is struggling on two parallel levels: she’s painfully ignorant and she hasn’t learned how to hide her painful ignorance. Even if she couldn’t remember the names of specific cases, Palin would have likely sounded fine if she spoke in vague terms about court rulings on religious liberty, or terrorism, or civil rights, or the economy, or anything.

Or perhaps even the reverse — she could throw out the names of a few famous cases, even if she’s shaky on the details. Off the top of one’s head, anyone in a high-ranking government office could probably mention Brown vs. Board of Education, Bush vs. Gore, Plessy vs. Ferguson, and Dred Scott, whether one could discuss them in any depth or not.

But Palin couldn’t name the cases and couldn’t talk her way out of it.

Don’t feel too sorry for her — she volunteered for this gig.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.