Commentary by Tyrus W. Cobb: Here’s an apology and a retraction to state Supreme Court justices
For the Nevada Appeal
When one gets his rear end chewed out by those he respects, it tends to make an indelible imprint.
I recall one time when President Ronald Reagan was very upset with a memorandum I had written. He had developed a very close relationship with Brian Mulroney, the new conservative prime minister of Canada, also of Irish decent. Within the administration, we had all come to love Mulroney, but most felt that Canadian efforts in the defense area and in support for us on foreign policy issues was less than what we had hoped for. Thus, Secretaries Caspar Weinberger and George Schultz, as well as the national security adviser, agreed that the president needed to be somewhat more demanding in the upcoming summit meeting with Mulroney.
The day before the meeting, we gathered as usual in the Cabinet Room for the “pre-brief.” Normally the president would come in from the Oval Office carrying a jar of jellybeans and wearing a big smile. After a long delay, he came into the Cabinet Room with a big frown on his face and threw down his briefing paper. Looking directly at me, he said, “I want you to know that I don’t talk to Brian Mulroney this way.”
While I was mentally preparing for my anticipated move back to West Point, the president kicked off the meeting, turning to the defense secretary, by saying “Well, Cap, what have you got?”
Weinberger, looking at his somewhat hardline notes, thought for a minute, then said, “Well, Mr. President, the good news is that in terms of defense spending, Canada has just surged ahead of Luxembourg!”
That took the tension out of the room and the president laughed. Job saved, the summit went off well, and the world didn’t end.
More recently I was admonished strongly by two justices of the Nevada Supreme Court whom I also respect. They were upset by remarks I had written, and others, suggesting that the Supreme Court had become an activist body. I quoted a Nevada Appeal editorial that alleged the court had become “involved in the budgeting process,” making the session a “judicially oligarchy.” While not directly agreeing, I said there was no doubt the court had become a major player in Nevada politics. I further stated that the court’s late session ruling on the legality of the seizure of money from the Clark County Clean Water Coalition represented a “most unusual interjection” of the court into the fray.
The justices were upset by this statement, as they were by many other political commentaries by legislative insiders hinting that there was contact between players in the political game with the court. The justices said such contacts would not only be unethical, they would be criminal.
The justices also pointed out that the process on the coalition issue had been ongoing for some time, with very little interest shown. They certainly understood that it was important for them to reach a decision by the end of the legislative session, but had in no way seen themselves as entering the political fray.
Similarly, they registered concern with any suggestion that the court system itself had invited or suggested that the Legislature turn the contentious redistricting exercise over to the courts. They also rejected the idea that the court system somehow welcomed the opportunity to decide the format for the race for the seat in the 2nd Congressional District.
After considerable reflection, I for one retract my statements suggesting contacts between the justices and key political players on any of the issues above. There may be those who disagree with this “mea culpa.” If so, I invite them to provide evidence of any improper contact or behavior.
• Tyrus W. Cobb is former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan.