Janice Rogers Brown's speech to the Federalist Society
One cannot read it without walking away with the impression that Justice Brown is a woman of great intellect, exceptional eloquence, and a dry sense of humor.
"A Whiter Shade of Pale":
Sense and Nonsense
The Pursuit of Perfection in Law and Politics
Thank you. I want to thank Mr. Schlangen (fondly known as Charlie to my secretary) for extending the invitation and the Federalist Society both for giving me my first opportunity to visit the City of Chicago and for being, Mr. Schlangen assured me in his letter of invitation, "a rare bastion (nay beacon) of conservative and libertarian thought." That latter notion made your invitation well-nigh irresistible.
There are so few true conservatives left in America that we probably should be included on the endangered species list. That would serve two purposes: Demonstrating the great compassion of our government and relegating us to some remote wetlands habitat where out of sight and out of mind we will cease being a dissonance in collectivist concerto of the liberal body politic.
In truth, they need not banish us to the gulag. We are not much of a threat, lacking even a coherent language in which to state our premise. [I should pause here to explain the source of the title to this discussion. Unless you are a very old law student, you probably never heard of "A Whiter Shade of Pale."] "A Whiter Shade of Pale" is an old (circa 1967) Procol Harum song, full of nonsensical lyrics, but powerfully evocative nonetheless. Here's a sample:
"We skipped the light fandango
turned cartwheels cross the floor
I was feeling kinda seasick
but the crowd called out for more.
The room was humming harder
as the ceiling flew away.
When we called out for another drink
the waiter brought a tray."
There is something about this that forcibly reminds me of our current political circus. The last verse is even better.
"If music be the food of love
then laughter is its queen
and likewise if behind is in front
then dirt in truth is clean...."
Sound familiar? Of course Procol Harum had an excuse. These were the 60's after all, and the lyrics were probably drug induced. What's our excuse?
One response might be that we are living in a world where words have lost their meaning. This is certainly not a new phenomenon. It seems to be an inevitable artifact of cultural disintegration. Thucydides lamented the great changes in language and life that succeeded the Pelopennesian War; Clarendon and Burke expressed similar concerns about the political transformations of their own time.
It is always a disorienting experience for a member of the old guard when the entire understanding of the old world is uprooted. As James Boyd White expresses it: "[I]n this world no one would see what he sees, respond as he responds, speak as he speaks,"1 and living in that world means surrender to the near certainty of central and fundamental changes within the self. "One cannot maintain forever one's language and judgment against the pressures of a world that works in different ways," for we are shaped by the world in which we live.2
Click here to read the entire speech, with much better formatting than this.