- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2008


By Christopher Buckley

Twelve, $24.99, 285 pages


Imagine that the president, the nicest bland guy in America, squeaked into office on a platform of “changing the way Washington does business” (I know that’s a stretch, but try anyway), and that for the last 21/2 years has kept his word by vetoing every spending bill Congress sent his way, causing the Senate in particular to hate his guts. Imagine further that the members of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body take their revenge by smacking down his first two nominees for a vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Now imagine that the president, totally losing his Mr. Nice Guy cool, snaps, and in retaliation, names the nation’s most popular television judge as the new Associate Justice of the Highest Court in the Land. Oyer, oyer (and oy vey, oy vey), let the fun and games begin.

Sen. Dexter Mitchell, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, really and truly hates President Donald P. Vanderdamp (“former Eagle Scout, naval officer, mayor, governor, affable, decent, family-oriented, golden retriever-owning midwesterner”) because the president had the effrontery to veto “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 if that wasn’t reason enough, Vanderdamp ignored Mitchell’s suggestion that he be named to fill the vacancy.

So when the first nominee was offered (up) Mitchell shot down the otherwise squeaky clean candidate by implying that one sentence in a book review written when the judge was 12 proved him insufficiently respectful of the iconic American legal-thriller movie, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” (The offending sentence? “Though the picture is overall OK, it’s also kind of boring in other parts.”) When Mitchell deep-sixes the president’s next choice for an equally flimsy reason, Vanderdamp storms off to Camp David, where, while trying to calm down by watching television, he spots if not the prefect candidate, then the perfect way to get back at Mr. Mitchell.

For Pepper Cartwright is the perfect TV judge - think Wapner-Brown-Judy but without a hard edge: “midthirties, tall, lush brown hair, cool blue eyes, high cheekbones, and deep dimples [with] a no-nonsense look to her. She wore glasses, which she kept taking off and putting back on. ” She’s from Plano, Texas, and comes across as “sassy, flippant, sexy.”

She’s her own woman and nobody’s going to push her around, not a vindictive U.S. senator and certainly not her own husband of seven years,

Buddy Bixby. TV mogul Buddy is also the owner-producer of Pepper’s show, “Courtroom Six,” as well as several other reality shows, such as “Jumpers” and “G.O.” The first features real people jumping off real bridges to real deaths, and the second needs no further explanation than the fact that G.O. is the medical abbreviation for Grossly Obese.

It isn’t bad enough that Buddy wants Judge Cartwright to start imposing jail terms on the losing parties in her civil courtroom, but he’s also a philanderer, and when he, too, ridicules the idea of Pepper (who is in fact an attorney and well over half-bright) on the Supreme Court - reminding her she has more important things to think about, like Sweeps Week - it’s the final straw. She tells the president yes, and it’s off to the confirmation hearings.

Of course she more than holds her own, and of course the American public adores her (with her lovely face, figure, and yes-I-can-do attitude, which makes you wonder if Chris Buckley owns a crystal ball), and lo and behold, before you can go to commercial, she’s the newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

All of that Hoo Haw, to borrow an expression from TV judge Shelly Berman of “Boston Legal,” only gets us to page 123, less than halfway through. Now what is Buckley going to do? Not to worry, he can do what he always does, which is to make fun of everyone and everything in sight.

Like his father (William F.) before him, Christopher Buckley is not a lawyer, which may or may not account for the noticeable lack of reverence he shows in his depiction of the Supremes. The Chief Justice is a drunk, the Minority Justice is a mean, nasty piece of work, the New York Jewsih Liberal Justice is a softie who stays executions, one of the two other female justices is Barbara Bush without the snappy sense of humor and the other is named Ruth “Ruthless” Richter, and the Italian-American Justice is not what you would call an affectionate parody of Justice Scalia.

How Judge Pepper will vote on the most crucial issues facing the nation is one of the main ways the author gets to the end of the book, and the other is the transformation of Sen. Dexter Mitchell - by Judge Pepper’s soon-to-be-former husband Buddy Bixby - into the President of the United States, on televison that is. But Mitchell is so good, and so popular, in the role that he decides to produce his own reality show by running for president.

This, of course, infuriates Mitchell’s archenemy, the real president, causing Vanderdamp to forgo his plan to serve only one term. He runs for re-election. Thus we hurtle, willy-nilly to the end of this light-hearted satirical farce (or farcical satire, take your pick). In case you’re wondering about the title, it has to do with a romance that blooms between two members of the Supreme Court, one of whom is Pepper, and the other is … . “(To reveal that would be downright unjust.)

I suspect Washington insiders will find this book much funnier than folks who live in places like De Forest, Wis.; Fort Smith, Ark. and Wasilla, Alaska. Mr. Buckley is a very funny writer who comes up with novel situations - see previous books like “Thank You for Smoking” and “Boomsday,” among others -but his humor is of the very broad variety, with a lot more slap than stick. If you think it’s funny to read about members of the Supreme Court conversing in Latin, then this book will knock you out. If not, caveat emptor.

• John Greenya is a Washington-area writer.

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