Supreme Irony

Like most papers, a front-page story in today’s Los Angeles Times notes that Judge David Tatel dissented from Monday’s Court of Appeals decision ordering Bruce Lindsey to testify before Kenneth Starr’s grand jury. What is more intriguing is that the same paper mentions in a separate article on page five that Tatel, who is blind, is on the Clinton administration’s short list to fill the next Supreme Court vacancy.

Before the vast right-wing conspiracy eagerly jumps on this one–claiming that Tatel voted his career aspirations rather than his conscience–Chatterbox feels compelled to offer a few cautionary words. Tatel, with whom Chatterbox has dined at a party for a mutual friend, is by all accounts a highly honorable jurist who is above such crass political calculation. In fact, the first legal expert that Chatterbox called today hailed Tatel’s dissent as a brilliant example of judicial reasoning.

Still, Chatterbox finds it odd that none of the major papers today mentioned Tatel’s popularity around the Clinton White House in the context of his dissent in the Bruce Lindsey case. Especially since Tatel’s name has popped up before in articles handicapping the next Supreme Court nominee. For those unfamiliar with the Tatel oeuvre, the judge has been consistent in arguing for lawyer-client privilege. He dissented from an earlier Court of Appeals decision that Vince Foster’s conversations with his lawyer were not privileged after his death. In that case, the Supreme Court backed Tatel by later overturning the appeals court.

Chatterbox again must stress that he does not believe that Tatel has been trying to curry favor with the White House. But in a suspicious age, shouldn’t newspaper readers be given the relevant facts to form their own conclusions?

Walter Shapiro