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Barb Wire

If the Supreme Court Umpired the World Series


“Welcome, baseball fans, to sunny San Francisco for the seventh game of the World Series, with the San Francisco Bohemians hosting the Kansas City Americans. This is your play by play announcer, Jack Armstrong, along with color commentator Jerry O’Reilly.

“We have a special treat for you fans this afternoon. The deciding game of this year’s World Series will be umpired by the United States Supreme Court! Jerry, can you tell us how this came about?”

“Sure can, Jack. Last night the baseball commissioner was notified that either he allows the Court to umpire Game Seven, or Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption would be declared unconstitutional.”

“Wow, I don’t know what to say about that.  Thanks, Jerry.  Let me explain  how this is going to work.  All nine Justices wanted to help call the game, so the Court has created several new umpiring positions.   Samuel Alito will be calling the right field line, Antonin Scalia will be at first base, and Clarence Thomas will be the first base dugout umpire. John Roberts is at second base and Stephen Breyer will be at third. Sonia Sotomayor will handle the third base dugout, and Elena Kagan will be way out in left field. Anthony Kennedy insisted on calling the balls and strikes at home plate.   Finally, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a little too far along in years to take the field, so she insisted on controlling the scoreboard. One more treat for the fans: the members of the Court will be wearing microphones and headsets, so they can speak with each other and with us as well. Now let’s get down to baseball. Who are today’s starting pitchers, Jerry?”

“The Americans will be going with their superstar, Text Constitution, who has already won two games in this series. He’s not only the greatest flamethrower in baseball, he’s also the Americans’ finest slugger. The Bohemians will counter with their ace, the crafty veteran, Living Document. Document is a classic junkballer. He throws a bewildering array of curve balls, screwballs, knuckleballs, and spitballs.”

“Aren’t spitballs illegal, Jerry?”

“Only if the umpires call ’em, Jack.”

“Speaking of umpires, the members of the Court, black robes and all, are taking their positions on the field. Hey, Jerry, I see a splash of color on Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan’s left sleeves. Do you know what that is?”

“Sure, Jack, that’s a rainbow ribbon, the team colors of the Bohemians.”

“I can’t believe they’d make their preference so public. Let’s ask why.” Armstrong pressed a button enabling him to speak with the Justices.

“Justice Kagan, this is Jack Armstrong up in the broadcast booth, and you’re on live speaking to America. We can’t help noticing you’re wearing the Bohemians’ team colors. Doesn’t that make you look a little bit partial?”

“No problem, Jack. Everybody already knows we’re big Bomos fans. These ribbons are nothing. Up in the scoreboard, where nobody can see her, Justice Ginsburg is wearing a Living Document jersey! Besides, everybody knows Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Roberts are Constitution fans, so it all evens out.”

Armstrong, dubiously: “Okay—thanks for that, Justice Kagan.”

With a big grin on his face, Justice Kennedy shouted “Play ball!”

From the beginning the game was a pitcher’s gem. Constitution’s rising fastball left Bohemians hitters waving their bats in futility, and through six innings not a Bomo got on base. On the other side, Living Document’s spitter was jerking like a ‘60s psychedelic go-go girl. When the Americans’ manager complained about the spitballs in the second inning, Kennedy tossed him out of the game, silencing the Americans’ dugout. Document gave up a couple of walks, but the only run was scored in the fourth inning, when Constitution smashed a Document screwball into the center field bleachers.

Document started losing his magic in the top of the seventh. A curve ball failed to break, and the Americans leadoff batter ripped a smoking liner between third and short. With a sprawling dive the Bohemian shortstop knocked it down, and he gunned the ball to first just as the runner reached the base. All eyes were on Justice Scalia for the call.

“You’re out!”

Armstrong pressed another button. “Justice Scalia, this is Jack Armstrong in the booth, and you’re on live.  That looked like a tie to me, and a tie goes to the runner. Why didn’t you give him the benefit of the doubt, especially when Justice Kennedy has been allowing the Bohemians to throw spitballs all day?”

“It doesn’t matter what Kennedy does, my job is to follow the rules and call ’em like I see ’em, Jack.”

But Living Document was getting tired. The next Americans batter singled cleanly to left, a new hitter came to the plate, and Constitution advanced to the on-deck circle.

“Time out!” bellowed Kennedy. He conferred briefly with Breyer and Sotomayor.

Sotomayor slipped quietly from the dugout to the on-deck circle. As the new Americans hitter faced Living Document, Constitution said something to his bat and took a mighty swing. Sotomayor jabbed her finger at the dugout and shrieked, “You’re out of the game!” Constitution wheeled around, his eyes blazing, but out of respect for the Court he stalked silently to the dugout.

Armstrong leaped to his button again. “Justice Sotomayor, Jack Armstrong in the booth, and you’re on live.  Why did you eject Constitution?”

“He made a racist statement, and we can’t tolerate racism in the nation’s pastime.”

“What did he say?”

“He said ‘I’m going to knock the cover off the ball.’”

“What’s racist about that?”

Sotomayor explained patiently. “His bat is brown, and the ball is white. As a wise Latina woman I understand racism better than a white male, and a brown object doing harm to a white object is obviously racist imagery. Besides, as a judge I’m trained to read between the lines. You can see it clearly in the penumbra.”

Justice Breyer broke into the conversation. “This is off the record, Jack.”  Armstrong cut the public mic.  “We knew we had to take Constitution out of the game before he put it out of reach. It was too early to get rid of him in the fourth inning, the public wasn’t ready. But we figure we can get away with it now.”

The Americans were shaken at the loss of their leader, and their bats fell silent again. Nevertheless, their setup man, Original Intent, held the Bohemians scoreless in the seventh and eighth. As the bottom of the ninth began, the Americans were still clinging to their one-run lead, and the bench coaches debated staying with Intent or bringing in their star closer, Natural Law.

Sotomayor, eavesdropping on the conversation in the Americans’ dugout, spoke on the private line to Ginsburg: “Ruthie, they’re going to bring in Natural Law!”

Ginsburg, having a senior moment, had left her mic open, allowing the broadcast team to hear the conversation. Ginsburg buzzed Kennedy and said, “Tony, they’re bringing in Natural Law!  You know what to do.”

Sotomayor hissed, “Ruthie, turn off your microphone!” But the damage was already done. The cameramen swung their cameras to home plate just in time to see Justice Kennedy’s face blacken into an ugly mask of hatred. He subconsciously patted the ribbon on his sleeve as he glared at Natural Law jogging onto the field.

“Time out!,” Kennedy roared. He summoned Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan to home plate. The conferring justices turned off their microphones and began to talk, tense looks on their faces. Kennedy ominously beckoned Justice Roberts to come in from behind second base.  Thomas, Alito and Scalia looked on, Thomas impassive, Alito and Scalia visibly angry. Scalia kicked the turf.

To fill the air time, Armstrong said, “While the game is paused, why don’t we chat with Justice Thomas?” He pressed another button, and said “Justice Thomas, this is Jack Armstrong in the broadcast booth, and you’re speaking to America. While we’re waiting for the game to resume, I’d like to get your opinion about what’s been going on. Four of the justices are clearly helping the Bohemians. You’re known to be an Americans man, but you haven’t made a call all day. Why not?”

“Because I’m a dugout umpire, Jack. You wouldn’t believe what goes on in the Bohemian dugout, but a fundamental principle of the common law is “a man’s home is his castle.” I don’t think it’s my place to stick my nose into Bohemian business. ”

When Justice Roberts reached the confab at home plate, a storm of shouting and gesticulating ensued. Ginsburg, eager to participate in the conversation from her scoreboard perch, fumbled with her microphone again, accidentally allowing the broadcast team to catch Justice Kennedy telling Justice Roberts:

“Listen, Johnny, you know what we have on you, and if you don’t play along, we’re going to …” Then Ginsburg found the private setting for her microphone, and the audio went quiet just before Roberts nodded grimly and headed back to second base.

“Okay, fans, the game is on again,” said Armstrong. “It’s the bottom of the ninth, and if the Bohemians don’t score on Natural Law, the Americans will win the World Series! Who’s coming to the plate, Jerry?”

“It’s the Bomo’s catcher, Billie Friendly, Jack. He’s a great fan favorite in San Francisco because of his participation with the Human Rights Campaign. He’s a fair hitter but like so many catchers, he’s a bit chunky, so he’s too slow to be a dangerous baserunner. Unfortunately for the Bohemians, his lifetime average against Natural Law is just .158.”

Law wound up and fired a fastball right past Friendly, at the knees and over the center of the plate. “Ball one!” shouted Kennedy.   Friendly looked around quizzically, then turned back and awaited the next pitch.

Another fastball at the knees, right over the plate. “Ball two!”

Law tried his slider next, and caught the corner of the plate about thigh high. “Ball three!”

In the broadcast booth, Armstrong jammed a finger on the button. “Justice Kennedy, it’s Jack Armstrong in the broadcast booth. Those all looked like strikes to us up here.”

“Am I on live?”


“Good.  They were balls, Jack.”

“But they were right over the plate!”

“The strike zone is whatever I say it is, Jack, and I say they were out of the strike zone.”

Law’s fourth pitch was right down the middle again. “Ball four!” Friendly started waddling to first base, but Kennedy called him back, spoke to him briefly, and sent him on his way.

Friendly was no threat to steal bases, so Law simply wound up and threw his first pitch to the next batter. Friendly unexpectedly took off for second. The catcher’s throw caught him easily, and the fans waited for John Roberts to make the obvious call. And waited. Finally Roberts mumbled “Safe!”

Armstrong dove for the button. “Justice Roberts, Jack Armstrong here, and you’re on live television.  Friendly was clearly out. How could you call him safe?”

“That’s not the way I saw it, Jack. Besides, Law didn’t even bother to check the runner at first base, and it’s not my job to protect the Americans from the consequences of their choices.”

With the next pitch Friendly took off for third. The ball arrived well before Friendly, and the Americans’ third baseman tried to forestall a bad call by tagging Friendly six feet before he reached the bag. Justice Breyer simply shouted “Interference!” and called Friendly safe.

As Law wound up for his next pitch, Friendly took off for home.   Justice Kennedy gave the Americans’ catcher a swift kick just before the pitch arrived, the ball got past him, and Friendly scored easily.

“It’s a tie ball game, baseball fans…” Armstrong began, but O’Reilly suddenly cut in. “Look, Jack, the scoreboard says the Bohemians lead, 2 to 1. The game’s over! The Bohemians win the World Series!”

Armstrong dived for the button again. “Justice Ginsburg, why did you give the Bohemians two runs when only one man crossed the plate?”

“Because Billie Friendly is not just any man, Jack, he’s a member of a protected class.   As a gay man he’s had to work twice as hard for everything he’s ever received, so in reparation we’re double-scoring his run.”

“But is that fair to the Americans?”

“We’re here to dispense justice, not fairness, Jack.”

As Bohemians fans rushed onto the field to celebrate, Armstrong reached for the button one last time. “Justice Alito, you’ve been quiet all day. What do you think about this World Series, as umpired by the Supreme Court? ”

“I don’t think much of it, Jack. You haven’t heard from me because I’ve been practicing judicial restraint, like Justices Thomas and Scalia. It’s frustrating when the liberal justices step out of their roles as umpires, but if the conservatives did it too, the judicial system would lose all credibility.”

“Thanks, Justice Alito, but I’m afraid it’s too late. The Court just allowed a few dozen federal judges to overrule the votes of forty million Americans to define marriage as between one man and one woman.  This Court has no credibility left.”


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