Too Stupid to be a Judge

Bruce Schneier has written about the foolish actions of Justice Antonin Scalia [1]. Antonin made some comments opposing the need for greater privacy protection, most people could get away with doing that, but when a Supreme Court Justice does so it gets some attention. In response to this Fordham University law professor Joel Reidenberg assigned his class a project to discover private information on Antonin using public sources. The class produced a dossier of such information which was then offered to Antonin [2], but which was not published.

Now anyone who knows anything about how the world works would just accept this. Among other things Antonin now knows what is publicly available and can take steps to remove some public data according to his own desires. But being apparently unaware of the Streisand effect [3] Antonin went on to say the following:

It is not a rare phenomenon that what is legal may also be quite irresponsible. That appears in the First Amendment context all the time. What can be said often should not be said. Prof. Reidenberg’s exercise is an example of perfectly legal, abominably poor judgment. Since he was not teaching a course in judgment, I presume he felt no responsibility to display any.

This is of course essentially issuing a challenge to the entire Internet to discover the information that the Fordham students discovered. Of course doing so would not be fun unless it was published. The meme of 2009 has yet to be defined, it might be discovering and widely publishing personal information about Antonin.

Already one of the comments in Bruce Schneier’s blog suggests that activists should do such research on all senior figures in the US government to encourage them to take privacy more seriously. I expect that the first reaction of the legislative branch to such practices would be to enact special laws to protect their own privacy while still allowing large corporations (the organisations that pay for the election campaigns) to do whatever they want to ordinary people.

It’s an interesting situation, I predict that Antonin will regard this as one of the biggest mistakes he’s ever made. I’m sure that there are many more LULZ to come from this.

6 comments to Too Stupid to be a Judge

  • Ben C

    It would also be “interesting” to penetrate the personal Windows machines of “all senior figures in the US government”…

  • So it sounds like what Justice Scalia is saying is that we’re only supposed to have as much privacy as the least responsible people think we need.

  • The Quack-quack judge cannot possibly surprise me anymore.

  • etbe

    Ben: No, that would be a crime and it’s not something that I would advocate. I do on occasion advocate civil disobedience, but I don’t think that compromising the PC of a government figure is appropriate.

    Don: Your comment is not clear to me. By “least responsible people” do you mean Professor Reidenberg, the 4chan crowd who are likely to take up a challenge from a judge, or the executives of major corporations (who seem to do the most wholesale damage to privacy)? Based on my prior knowledge of your attitudes I’m guessing that you do not believe that Professor Reidenberg is irresponsible, although Antonin would surely think so.

  • James

    The Video Privacy Protection Act was passed after someone published a judge nominated for the supreme court, so this idea works in practice.

  • etbe
    James: Thanks for that hint. Robert Bork was the judge in question and the successful effort to reject his nomination led to the invention of the term “borked”. Not that his video rental history had anything interesting or relevant to the issue.