Why What Palin Doesn't Know About the Supreme Court Matters

11/01/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's my job as the Media Campaign Coordinator at the National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights to think a lot about the courts and about how to get other folks to also think about the courts. As someone who believes in and works for civil rights, I think it's crucially important for the public to be aware of the role of the courts in the fight to reinstate and then eventually seek continued progress on civil rights.

Part of why our democracy is so incredible is because of the roles our Constitution and our justice system play in protecting rights and liberties. As the Supreme Court itself has said, "Constitutional rights may not be infringed simply because the majority of the people choose that they be." The Supreme Court has often played a proud role in the forming of this country's civil rights story.

Or, if you're actually more a fan of rolling back civil rights, rather than making progress on them, you likely have your own list of favorite cases.

If you're a woman, perhaps one running for one of the highest positions of power in this country, and your running mate is someone who is horribly proud of the disaster of a decision that is Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co, you likely know all about the case and how Lily Ledbetter is a key example of how women still don't receive equal pay for equal work in this country. This fact would be even more likely if you were running on the Republican ticket with a man who had voted against Congress' attempt to fix the harm caused by this decision, but then held a town hall, which you also participated in, where he said that he would, in fact, later on, maybe, I guess, propose legislation that would fix the decision. (Despite his recent act of not voting for such legislation.)

Are you a member of the NRA? Do you like to shoot moose? Do you think it's fun to shoot wolves from airplanes? Chances are decent you have heard of DC V. Heller.

Are you the Governor of Alaska? You likely don't need me to remind you of Alaska v. Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government. Or, well, any of the many, many Supreme Court cases that change the legal structure in which you as a governor work within.

This is a part of my job, you see. I take Supreme Court cases and then highlight how they play a role in lives of people who are affected by them.

Say you were running on a ticket for the Presidency and Vice Presidency, I would explain to you how Bush v. Gore might mean something to your life. Only, well, I would hope that I wouldn't have to.

A part of why I work to engage the public around the role of the courts is so that they can monitor and encourage action by the elected officials who play a role in selecting those who sit on our courts. As a civil rights activist, I always thought my worst fear was an elected official who saw the courts as a weapon to work against civil rights. It never occurred to me that one of the highest offices in our country could be held by someone who doesn't even know anything the Supreme Court of the United States has ever done, other than Roe v. Wade.

Ladies and gentlemen, as you've perhaps read by now, such a candidate does exist, it's the one who wears lipstick and shoots moose. It's the one who just got her passport last year, met her first head of state last week, and is seeking the Vice Presidency alongside a 72 year old Presidential candidate who has battled cancer four times:

"Of concern to McCain's campaign, however, is a remaining and still-undisclosed clip from Palin's interview with Couric last week that has the political world buzzing.

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."

Estimates have it that the next President of these United States could appoint up to three Supreme Court Justices. Three lifetime positions to the highest court in the nation. Three individuals who will play crucial roles in major decisions that will help shape in which direction that long arc of justice bends as time moves forward.

Sarah Palin can't name a single Supreme Court case other than Roe v. Wade!

I'm sorry, I know I've written that already, but it's just to hard for me to comprehend, so I might need to write it a few more times as well.

I'm supposed to spend some time today thinking about the fact that 77% of Americans could name two of the "seven dwarfs" from Disney's Snow White, while just 24 percent knew two of the nine Supreme Court justices, and how we can work to change that statistic. I just didn't think that I would have to conclude that maybe one of our Vice Presidential candidates could very likely be in that 77%.

The other day in a brainstorming session, I was coming up with a list of ways to further educate the public about the Supreme Court and the role its cases play in the lives of individuals and their communities. Among a few hopefully more strategic ideas, I pointed out that maybe we should make some Supreme Court playing cards that can summarize major cases and how they've changed the country. I still might keep this as a side project, but I'm thinking that it's likely that someone made Sarah Palin a set of such cards in advance of Thursday's debate. Maybe I could just borrow hers.