RED HOT PEPPER
By Christopher Buckley
Publisher: Twelve - pages: 285
President of the United States Donald Vanderdamp is having a problem: his nominees to the Supreme Court keep getting rejected by the Senate. One appellate judge with an impeccable record is bounced by the Senate Judiciary Committee because he fails to show sufficient appreciation for the movie To Kill a Mockingbird. The President realizes that he can keep sending outstanding appellate judges to the Senate where they will get diced and skewered by his political opponents or he can come up with an idea that is, well, truly unique. He decides to go with option number two. He nominates Pepper Cartwright, the star of the nation’s most popular reality show, Courtroom Six.
Pepper Cartwright turns out to be the perfect nominee. An attractive and outgoing Texan (who likes rodeo and tequila, straight up), she is not afraid to speak plainly. Her appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee is classic. Asked to describe her judicial philosophy, Judge Cartwright states: “Punish the wicked and acquit the innocent. That’s about it. Want to fast-forward to Roe v. Wade?” Asked whether the White House programmed her before the hearing, she states: “They gave me these briefing books. Great big pile of ‘em. Looked like a back-to-school sale at Wal-Mart.” Then barely concealing her boredom she states, “Wake me up if they find pubic hair on any Coke cans.”
This clever and often hilarious novel is the product of Christopher Buckley, a well known writer and political satirist (his previous books include Thank You for Smoking). Buckley does an exceedingly good job at puncturing pretense and making fun of the politically correct jargon that passes for intelligent conversation in Washington. He has no problem going after conservative political figures as well as liberal ones, although he seems to take a special delight in sticking a sharp pin into the inflated hides of pompous and sanctimonious liberal Senators. His depiction of Senator Dexter Mitchell, the botox-injected Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is quite funny, and it will probably cause some liberal readers to suffer a few uncomfortable moments. But, hey, if you can’t take a joke . . . .
Pepper Cartwright wins her nomination battle and then takes her place at the Supreme Court where she meets her colleagues a rather eccentric cast of characters. Justice Mo Gotbaum is a liberal New Yorker and a “famously soft touch” when it comes to staying executions. For fun he likes to tour the country on his Suzuki Rocket motorcycle, which he calls his “Crotch Rocket.” Ishiguro Haro is the first Japanese-American Justice. A real intellect, his hobby is doing the Times of London crossword puzzle while blindfolded. Haro graduated from Stanford Law School at twenty and then made a fortune as a Silicon Valley lawyer.
The most intriguing member of the Court is Silvio Santamaria, the 250 pound black haired former boxer and former Jesuit seminarian who serves as occasional adviser to the Vatican on international affairs. Justice Santamaria is firmly convinced of his own brilliance and sparkling wit. (Does this remind you of anyone?). During legal discussions Santamaria goes for the throat whenever anyone takes a contrary position. “He didn’t just nitpick,” the author explains, “he disemboweled you and flossed his teeth with your intestines.”
Pepper Cartwright, though, is unwilling to just sit back and accept his bad manners. At a court conference, after she announces her vote on an important case, Justice Santamaria emits a majestic sigh, leans back, and rolls his eyes. Pepper says simply, “Justice Santamaria, do you have something to say to me? Or are you waiting for one of your clerks to come put drops in your eyes?”
The cases which the new Justice has to consider are, what can you say, . . . a little unusual. The first involves a South Dakota bank robber who strides into a bank with pistol drawn and demands that the teller give him ten thousand in cash. When a deputy sheriff enters the bank, the robber tries to fire his gun, but it fails to fire. The robber is arrested and subsequently convicted of armed robbery and attempted murder. In prison, he files suit against the firearms manufacturer, claiming that his gun “failed to function properly” and caused him a loss of income, as well as psychic and physical distress. Yes, that’s right. The suit finally ends up in the Supreme Court where the other Justices split four-four. Pepper Cartwright has to render the deciding vote. WWJD. What would Judge Judy do?
The courtroom scenes are well drawn. If you were ever involved in a legal argument that you thought was out of Alice in Wonderland, you’ll find the legal arguments in this book to be very funny. The author goes too far with his use of Latin legal expressions (after a while, it’s just not funny), and the book would probably be better without some of the footnotes. Do you need a footnote to explain that The West Wing was a popular TV series? But these are minor complaints.
Supreme Courtship has to be considered a first rate legal and political satire.