When you think about it, Hollywood hasn’t made a whole lot of movies about the Supreme Court. In fact, there’s only one I can remember that actually ventured into the judges’ chambers and turned the Supremes into living, breathing characters. That’d be “First Monday in October,” a genial 1981 comedy in which Walter Matthau starred as a firebrand liberal justice who butts heads with a younger, staunchly conservative new appointee played by Jill Clayburgh.
One big plot twist in that movie was that a president had the temerity to put a woman on the bench — like that could ever happen — but the joke turned out to be on the filmmakers. Just one month after the picture’s premiere, Ronald Reagan went ahead and made Sandra Day O’Connor the first real-life female Supreme Court justice.
But my point here is that for decades Hollywood has treated the Supreme Court with kid gloves. On those rare occasions when the institution does pop up in pop culture — in films like “The People vs. Larry Flynt” or “The Post” or TV shows like “West Wing”— it’s often kept at a distance, frequently off-camera, much in the way Hollywood used to pay its respects to the presidency, in pre-Watergate days, by only showing the back of a chief executive’s head.
There are exceptions, of course — like that episode of Shonda Rhimes’ “Scandal” when President Fritz Grant snuck into Associate Justice Verna Thornton’s hospital room and suffocated her with a pillow — but for the most part film and TV have done their bit to mythologize the Court, nurturing its image as a venerated, benign, godly institution, far above the muck of politics and ideological agendas.
I’m thinking maybe it’s time that changed.
In fact, Hollywood has been behind the curve on the Court for a long while. It’s true that for many years there were good reason to admire it — for much of our lifetimes the court has mostly expanded civil rights for Blacks, women and gay people. But as far back as Bush v. Gore in 2000, when the Court ordered Florida election officials to stop counting votes and anointed George W. the 43rd president (despite his losing the national popular vote by a half million ballots), the veneer was already starting to peel. And now, with the leak over its imminent ruling overturning Roe v. Wade — a 49-year precedent supported by 70 percent of the public in poll after poll — the Supreme Court is all but lifting its robes and flashing its ideology in America’s face.
So, Hollywood, maybe now is the time to consider a different, less diffident way of portraying the high court. You say you’re always looking for fresh new villains? Here’s nine of them (or at least six) with life-long appointments and terrifying, unspeakable superpowers.
How about saucy night-time soap set the hallways of the Supreme Court Building, filled with gorgeous, sex-crazed law clerks and their unscrupulous, back-stabbing bosses (you listening, Shonda?). Or maybe a wacky comedy a la “The Office” or “Parks & Rec,” with Steve Carell playing an idiot Chief Justice and Amy Poehler as his much-smarter assistant who’s always covering up what a moron he is. Or perhaps a dark, brooding conspiratorial thriller along the lines of “The Parallax View” or “The Manchurian Candidate”? A secret cabal of right-wing fanatics — let’s call them, oh, I dunno, The Federalist Society — take over the court, start disassembling civil liberties and plot to turn the United States into a misogynistic, neo-fascist cryptocracy.
On second thought, that last one might be a bit too scary. After all, you want to make it believable.
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