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Will Pepper, a straight-talking Texan, survive a confirmation battle in the Senate? Will becoming one of the most powerful women in the world ruin her love life? And even if she can make it to the Supreme Court, how will she get along with her eight highly skeptical colleagues, including a floundering Chief Justice who, after legalizing gay marriage, learns that his wife has left him for another woman.
Soon, Pepper finds herself in the middle of a constitutional crisis, a presidential reelection campaign that the president is determined to lose, and oral arguments of a romantic nature. Supreme Courtship is another classic Christopher Buckley comedy about the Washington institutions most deserving of ridicule.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2008 by Christopher Taylor Buckley
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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First eBook Edition: September 2008
ALSO BY CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY
Florence of Arabia
No Way to Treat a First Lady
Washington Schlepped Here: Walking in the Nation's Capital
Little Green Men
God Is My Broker
Thank You for Smoking
The White House Mess
Steaming to Bamboola: The World of a Tramp Freighter
For Jolie Hunt
Supreme Court Associate Justice J. Mortimer Brinnin's deteriorating mental condition had been the subject of talk for some months now, but when he showed up for oral argument with his ears wrapped in aluminum foil, the consensus was that the time had finally come for him to retire. Thank God, his fellow justices agreed—unanimously, for once—cameras weren't allowed in the Court.
Brinnin was a distinguished jurist who had cast some of the most consequential votes of his day. But the sun had now (emphatically) set on that day. His mind, once capable of quoting entire opinions as far back as the nineteenth century, in toto and verbatim, was now succumbing to medication (for persistent sciatica) and increasingly copious evening martinis. He had taken to summoning his clerks in the middle of the night to tell them that there were moray eels in the toilet. On another occasion, also at three a.m., he met them at the front door holding a bag of kitchen garbage and instructed them that they must get it to Omaha—without delay. (Justice Brinnin had grown up there.) It was when Justice Brinnin became convinced that the ghost of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was whispering in his ears trying to influence his vote that he reached for the aluminum foil.
Chief Justice Declan Hardwether, who was himself going through a rough patch at the time, found the situation embarrassing. He was not by nature a confrontational man and so was at pains what to do. None of the other justices, who were, at any rate, hardly speaking to one another, wanted to intervene. So the CJ turned to the den-motherly Justice Paige Plympton.
"You've got to do something," he pleaded, "before he shows up dressed like the Tin Man, singing 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow.' "
Justice Plympton dealt with the situation with her usual grace and gentle persuasiveness. And when that didn't work, she assembled Justice Brinnin's children in a conference call intervention.
In due course, the Marshal of the Court hand-delivered Justice Brinnin's letter of resignation to the White House. The news was duly announced. Nothing raises the national temperature more than a VACANCY sign hanging from the colonnaded front of the Supreme Court.
PRESIDENT VANDERDAMP was not at the time riding a tidal wave of popularity. His approval ratings were, in fact, abysmal, though his press secretary was always quick to stress that they were in "the high twenties."
Donald P. Vanderdamp had been elected two and a half years ago in a three-way race that included a hedge-fund billionaire who spent $350 million of his own money. Vanderdamp squeaked across the finish line with two electoral votes to spare. He had run on a platform of "changing the way Washington does business."
Everyone who runs for president says they are going to change the way Washington does business. The surprise was that Donald P. Vanderdamp, former Eagle Scout, naval officer, mayor, governor, affable, decent, churchgoing, family-oriented, golden retriever–owning midwesterner, actually meant it. He was sixty-four years old and, as one waspish pundit put it, "fast approaching retirement age, and not a minute too soon." He was physically unremarkable in an Eisenhowerish sort of way: balding, trim, pleasant-looking but with the quietly commanding look of, say, an airline pilot or high school principal. Some people fill a room. Not Donald P. Vanderdamp. His blandness—what another pundit had called his "ineffable Donald-ness"—had served him well over the years. It invited underestimation. People tittered at his great passion and hobby—bowling.
Faced with a national debt mind-boggling even by Washington standards, Donald P. Vanderdamp had rolled up his shirtsleeves on his first day in office, unscrewed the cap of the presidential veto pen, and gone to work. He wrote No on every spending bill that the Congress sent to his desk.
He was determined to bring order to the nation's books. So far, he had vetoed 185 spending bills, acquiring the nickname "Don Veto." It was an incongruent term, given his total lack of Italianate qualities. Donald P. Vanderdamp was paradigmatically nonethnic, as middle American as sliced white bread. (Excellent with peanut butter and jelly but not much else.) But as Don Veto he had evolved into the sworn enemy of the majority of the United States Congress, whose members understand that their main job, their highest calling, their truest democratic function, is to take money from other states and funnel it to their own. What greater homage to the Founding Fathers and the men who froze at Valley Forge could there be than a civic center in Tulsa paid for by the taxpayers of Massachusetts?
Nominating someone to the Supreme Court can be hard enough for a popular president. For one at the opposite end of the likability spectrum, it presents a daunting challenge, as well as a delicious opportunity for the chief bouncer at the rope line in front of the Supreme Court entryway: the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The current occupant of that powerful chair was a man named Dexter Mitchell, senator from the great state of Connecticut. Dexter Mitchell despised Donald P. Vanderdamp, though he was always careful, in his public statements, to say that he had "the greatest respect" for him. He despised him for a variety— or as they say in Washington, "multiplicity"—of reasons. He despised him because he had vetoed S. 322, a bill Mitchell had sponsored that would have required every helicopter rotor blade in the U.S. military to be made in his home state of Connecticut. And he despised Donald P. Vanderdamp for ignoring his suggestion that he appoint him to fill the Brinnin vacancy on the high court. (More about that in due course.)
President Vanderdamp's first nominee to succeed Brinnin was a distinguished appellate judge named Cooney. Enormous care had gone into his selection, knowing that Senator Mitchell's Judiciary Committee was preparing an auto-da-fé that would have made the Spanish Inquisition blush. Cooney was a jurist of impeccable credentials. Indeed, he seemed to have been put on earth precisely for the purpose of one day becoming a justice of the United States Supreme Court.
Senator Mitchell's Judiciary Committee staff investigators were known on Capitol Hill as the Wraith Riders, after the relentless, spectral, horse-mounted pursuers of hobbits in The Lord of the Rings. It was said in hushed tones on Capitol Hill that the Wraith Riders could find something on anyone: could make it look like Mother Teresa had run a whorehouse in Calcutta; that St. Thomas More had been having it off with Catherine of Aragon; or that Dr. Albert Schweitzer had conducted ghastly live medical experiments on helpless, unanesthetized African children on behalf of Belgian drug companies.
However, faced with the blemishless Judge Cooney, the Wraith Riders were left to whinny there was nothing with which to hang him, not even an unpaid parking ticket. He was an exemplar of every judicial virtue. Not one of his decisions had been overturned by a higher court. As for his personal life, he was so reasonable and wise that he made Socrates sound like a raving, bipolar crank.
Dig deeper, Senator Mitchell told the Wraith Riders. Or dig your own graves. Off they rode, shrieking.
And so, on day two of the Cooney hearings, Senator Mitchell, smiling pleasantly as usual, began: "Judge Cooney, you are, I take it, familiar with the film To Kill a Mockingbird?"
Judge Cooney answered yes, he was pretty sure he'd seen it, back in grade school.
"Is there anything about that you'd care to . . . tell the Committee?"
Judge Cooney looked perplexed. Tell? He wasn't quite sure he understood the question.
Senator Mitchell held up a piece of paper as if mere physical contact with it might forever contaminate his fingers.
"Do you recognize this document?"
Not from this distance, Judge Cooney replied, now thoroughly perplexed.
"Then let me refresh your memory," Senator Mitchell said. The vast audience watching the proceedings held its breath, wondering what radioactive material Senator Mitchell had unearthed to incriminate this spotless nominee. It turned out to be a review of the movie that the twelve-year-old Cooney had written for The Beaverboard, his elementary school newspaper. " 'Though the picture is overall OK,' " Senator Mitchell quoted, " 'it's also kind of boring in other parts.' "
Senator Mitchell looked up, took off his glasses, paused as if fighting back tears, nodded philosophically, and said, "Tell us, Judge, which parts of To Kill a Mockingbird did you find quote-unquote boring?"
In his concluding statement several grueling days later, Senator Mitchell said in a more-in-sadness-than-in-anger tone that he could "not in good conscience bring myself to vote for someone who might well show up at the Court on the first Monday of October wearing not black judicial robes but the white uniform of the Ku Klux Klan."
And that was the end of Judge Cooney. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee issued a statement politely inviting the White House to "send us a nominee we can all agree on."
PRESIDENT DONALD P. VANDERDAMP repressed the temptation to storm up Pennsylvania Avenue and insert Senator Mitchell's microphone in an orifice not specifically designed for such purposes, swallowed what was left of his pride, and instructed his staff to find another Supreme Court nominee, preferably one who hadn't written movie reviews for his elementary school newspaper. In due course, he put forward nomineee number two, a New York State Court of Appeals judge named Burrows.
Judge Burrows had credentials that would entitle him to the E-ZPass lane at the Pearly Gates. Again, the Wraith Riders returned from their exhumations shrieking helplessly. Burrows's after-hours hobby—his hobby—was providing pro bono legal counseling to inmates at the state penitentiary. He had lost a leg ejecting from his F-4 fighter plane over Vietnam. None of his rulings had been overturned. His wife was a Vietnamese refugee. They had adopted two Rwandan orphans.
Senator Mitchell, studying his dossier, furrowed his brow. No, this would not be easy. The Wraith Riders whinnied forth again and this time did not return with empty claws. A woman had been located who had dated Burrows when he was a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. Senator Mitchell smiled and dispensed lumps of sugar to the Riders.
"Judge Burrows," Senator Mitchell said, "does the name [such and such] mean anything to you?"
Judge Burrows calmly but coolly returned the senator's gaze and said that he hardly thought that had anything to do with anything.
"Perhaps we should be the—pardon the expression—judges of that," Senator Mitchell just as coolly replied. After a few more questions he had grudgingly elicited that Judge Burrows had indeed dated Ms. Such-and-Such back then; further, that at one point she thought she might have become pregnant.
Again the room hushed.
"Judge Burrows," he said, "and I really do hate having to ask these questions, but it is my job . . . is it true that you tried to talk Ms. Sinclair out of having an abortion?"
No, Judge Burrows replied. Not at all. But he had offered to do the honorable thing and marry her and raise the child. And then it turned out that she wasn't pregnant after all.
The next day Senator Mitchell announced that he could not, in good conscience, vote to approve someone so "maniacally" opposed to a woman's right to choose, as enshrined in Roe v. Wade.
And so ended Judge Burrows's brief Supreme Court career.
That afternoon the normally placid-faced President Donald P. Vanderdamp strode to the helicopter on the South Lawn of the White House looking, as one reporter commented, "like he was ready to bite the head off a live chicken." He did not throw the crowd his customary wave. Even the presidential golden retriever, Dwight, a friendly, pattable hound, looked eager to sink his fangs into the nearest shin.
MORE THAN SEVERAL HISTORIANS of the Vanderdamp presidency have speculated that the events that followed might very well not have taken place if the President had not chanced to turn on the television late that Friday night at Camp David, the presidential retreat. But turn it on he did. Rarely has channel-surfing been so consequential.
In an oral history on deposit at the Vanderdamp Presidential Library in Wapakoneta, Ohio, President Vanderdamp relates that he was simply trying to find the Bowling Channel that night. He was not a guileful person, so there is no reason not to believe him. Apart from the news shows and the bowling, he was not a big watcher of television, preferring crossword puzzles and murder mysteries. He claims never to have watched Courtroom Six before or ever to have heard of it, though it was one of TV's top ten–rated shows.
At any rate, that Friday night found the President at his retreat in the Cactoctin Mountains, alone in bed with a bowl of Graeter's black raspberry chip ice cream—an Ohioan delicacy—and the faithful hound, Dwight. The First Lady was being honored for raising awareness of a disease at a dinner in New York. Fuming over the Burrows fiasco while clicking his way through the cable channels in search of a decent bowling tournament, the President happened upon Courtroom Six. The rest is, as they say, history.
The episode he came upon was the one involving the ex-wife who, seeking revenge on her ex-husband for what she considered an inequitable distribution of assets, had snuck into his wine cellar while he was away and opened hundreds of bottles of prized Bordeaux wines—by hand, one by one—replacing the wine with diet grape juice; then recorking and resealing them. It's one of Courtroom Six's more well-known cases. As the wife is being sworn in by the clerk, she raises a hand ostentatiously encased in an orthopedic brace.
"May I ask," Judge Cartwright, presiding, asks, "what's the deal with the hand?"
"Carpal tunnel, Your Honor."
Judge Cartwright, barely suppressing a grin, says, "The jury will disregard the defendant's remark."
"Objection," says the prosecutor. "Grounds, Your Honor?"
"I don't know." Judge Cartwright shrugs. "But I'll think of something."
President Vanderdamp's finger, poised on the channel button to keep on flicking, stayed. He found himself, along with millions of other Americans, entertained and captivated. He watched the entire show. He found himself quite taken by the charm and sassy style—to say nothing of the good looks—of Judge Pepper Cartwright.
"Pepper?" the President said aloud to himself, musing. "What sort of name is that for a judge?"
Dwight lifted his head off the pillow next to the President's and cocked an ear in hopes of discerning syllabic similarity between the words being spoken and "biscuit."
President Vanderdamp was not an imperious—much less imperial—president, one to summon the staff at late hours with urgent requests. When he walked Dwight on the White House grounds, he cleaned up after him himself. He had once ordered a (richly deserved) B-2 bomb strike in the middle of night, mainly because he did not want to disturb his elderly secretary of defense, who had just had another prostate operation and needed his sleep.
Now he reached for the presidential laptop, a computer of truly dazzling capability, and Googled Judge Pepper Cartwright and Courtroom Six. He stayed up well past his normal bedtime.
THE NEXT MORNING at breakfast he asked the steward, "Jackson, have you ever seen a TV show called Courtroom Six?"
"What do you think of it?"
"Watch it every chance I get, sir."
"What do you think of the judge—Judge Pepper?"
"Oh," Jackson smiled, not servant to president, but man to man, "I like her a whole lot, sir. She's a smart lady. She hands it out good. And she's awful . . ."
"Go ahead, Jackson."
Jackson grinned. "Awful easy on the eyes."
"Thank you, Jackson."
"Another waffle, sir? Griddle's still hot."
"Yes," the President said. "I think I will. But Jackson—not a word to the First Lady."
"Oh, no, sir."
Good show," said Buddy Bixby, creator and producer of Courtroom Six, and spouse to its star.
They were in Pepper's dressing room, generally referred to jocularly as her "chambers," following the taping.
"What was so awful about it?" Pepper said, removing her judicial robes, revealing a bra, pantyhose, and high heels. It was a sight to induce infarction in the most hardened of male arteries, but in a husband of six years, barely a glance.
"I said it was a good show," Buddy said. "What am I supposed to say?"
" 'Good' is what you say when you thought it was roadkill. When you really think it was good, you do that producer macho trash talk. 'Great fucking show.' 'Outta the fucking ballpark.' "
"It was a great fucking show. It took my fucking breath away."
"You're the only person I know who can say that while sounding like you're suppressing a yawn." Pepper yanked a Baby Wipe from the box and began removing makeup. "What's eating you, anyway?"
"We're getting killed against Law & Order."
Pepper sighed. "We're not getting killed against Law & Order. We're doing fine."
"We're down a half point." Buddy treated any dip in Courtroom Six's ratings as a state of emergency. "By what definition is that 'fine'?"
"What's got into you? You're more nervous than a long-tailed cat on a porchful of rocking chairs."
"These sentences you're handing out . . ."
"What about them?"
"You're letting the women off kind of easy, don't you think?"
"No. What else did you want to talk about?"
"The bitch poured $150,000 worth of fine French wine down the drain! And you sentence her to six hours of anger management therapy?"
Pepper tossed a Baby Wipe into the wastebasket. "What did you have in mind? Lethal injection? Hanging?"
"What about making her drink the grape juice? That would have been something. Poetic justice. Instead of anger management therapy." Buddy shook his head. "I'm glad you're not in charge of the war on terror. The terrorists would be at spas having manicures."
Pepper brushed her hair and tried to tune out her husband's normal postshow hand-wringing and critiques. The better things went, the more he needed to worry that some calamity was imminent, a once-charming trait now a bit tedious. Buddy did care about Courtroom Six. It was his class act—"class" being a somewhat relative term, considering his other shows: Jumpers, a reality show based on security camera footage of people who jump off bridges; G.O. (the medical abbreviation for "grotesquely obese"); and now a show called Yeehad, a "comedy" about five patriotic Southerners who decide to travel to Mecca to blow up Islam's most sacred shrine, the Q'aaba. Buddy had eight shows running. According to Forbes, they were earning him $74 million a year. But Courtroom Six was the jewel in the crown.
"I'm just saying that there would appear to be a noticeable feminist . . . thing going on with these sentences you're handing down."
"I thought we'd had that discussion."
"Excuse me for pointing out something the entire world is talking about. I'm just saying—if it please the court—that you've been letting these women off easy. But if it's a guy, you go at him like he's a fucking piñata."
"Buddy, honey," Pepper said, "the ex-husband, whose Bordeaux wine you regard like it's holy water, was tighter than bark on a tree with the alimony and the child support. I'm not going to cry me a river on account of his '82 Petrus." She sniffed. "Been me, I'd have busted the bottles over his head. One by one."
"I rest my case," Buddy said triumphantly.
"Well, you go rest your case. This girl is going to go rest her tail."
She shimmied into her jeans and lizard-skin cowboy boots. Simple white blouse, raised collar, turquoise stud earrings, suede jacket, and over-the-shoulder handbag: she looked like a woman who knew her way on a New York City sidewalk. In the handbag was a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson LadySmith revolver, a gift from her grandfather. She was licensed to carry.
"Could I just say one thing?" Buddy said.
"No, darlin'. But I have a feeling you're going to, anyway."
"Do you know how many of our viewers are male?"
"No, sweetheart. I leave those details to you. I'm just a simple girl from Plano."
"Yeah, yeah. Well, then, my little cactus bud, you might be interested to know that we're down six percent among male viewers."
Pepper said, "Well, damn. I guess there's nothing left to do but throw myself off the Brooklyn Bridge. If nothing else, it'll give you a season finale for Jumpers."
Bill said pleadingly, "But—don't you care?"
"I care that I'm going to be late for my mani-pedi."
"Why have we had such success—historically speaking—among male viewers?"
"Presumably on account of my Solomonic dispensation of justice."
"A major factor, no question. But another factor?"
Pepper was headed for the door.
"Excuse me," Buddy said, "am I boring you?"
"Yes. Seriously so."
"Then let me get right to the point." Buddy lowered his voice, as if he were revealing a classified secret. "The sponsors are not happy."
Pepper rolled her eyes.
"Fine," Buddy said. "Shoot the messenger if it makes you feel better. As for Hummer and Budweiser? I would not describe them as happy campers."
"Buddy. Buddy. We're the number seven show on TV. I just do not see the problemo."
"The problemo? I'll tell you the problemo. The problemo is that I care-o."
"All right," said Pepper, slinging her bag back over her shoulder, "if it'll get me out of here, I promise—I swear—next female defendant, no matter how innocent she is, that bitch is going to Guantánamo for some serious attitude adjustment."
Buddy smiled. "Thank you, Your Honor."
PEPPER CARTWRIGHT and Buddy Bixby, respectively of Plano, Texas, and New Rochelle, New York, were from very different worlds but had happened to find each other seven years before in a courtroom—an actual courtroom, that is—Courtroom 6 in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Buddy was at the time a midlevel (which is to say, not high level) local TV news producer, fast approaching fifty. His career had consisted of a series of almosts. He had almost gotten footage of Squeaky Fromme attempting to shoot President Gerald Ford; had almost gotten an on-camera interview with the reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes; had almost bought Microsoft at six dollars a share; almost gotten the big job back in New York.
He'd been asked to be the speaker at his twenty-fifth college reunion, a prospect that greatly pleased him, until the class secretary, whom Buddy had cordially detested for twenty-nine years, called back a few days later blithely to say never mind, he'd just heard back from the first person he'd asked, parenthethes, No offense, but sort of a bigger catch than you, ha-ha, so anyway, see you there, big guy.
- On Sale
- Sep 3, 2008
- Page Count
- 304 pages