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See Inside January 2006

And Science for All

The second law trumps the tenth amendment



FRANK VERONSKY
Sam Alito--not the town across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, that's Sausalito--is the new nominee for associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Harriet Miers had been the nominee, but she thought Marbury v. Madison had something to do with New York Knick point guard Stephon Marbury and his home court of Madison Square Garden.

Despite her lack of experience in constitutional law, Miers was defended by some commentators who posited that corporate law experience would come in handy when the court hears business cases. Fair enough. But surely the court will hear more and more cases involving science and technology, too. Therefore, I'd like to suggest a few science-related questions that members of the Senate Judiciary Committee might ask Supreme Court nominees:

1. What's the difference between RNA and the NRA?

2. It has been said that gravity is not just a good idea, it's the law. Is gravity indeed the law? Is gravity indeed a good idea in a land of rampant obesity?

3. What's the second law of thermodynamics? What's the third law of motion? Who's on first?

4. A related question. In his confirmation hearings, Chief Justice John Roberts compared being a judge with being a baseball umpire. Is it time for the instant replay in baseball? And does antediluvian refer to baseball prior to the Flood decision?

5. Do you believe in spontaneous human combustion, or do you refuse to answer on the grounds that you might incinerate yourself? (The kids, they love that one.)

6. In commenting on the death penalty, Justice Antonin Scalia said, "For the believing Christian, death is no big deal." Is death, in fact, a big deal? And if death isn't a big deal, why is murder?

7. Original Law and Order, or Law and Order: Criminal Intent?

8. Le Chatelier's principle holds that if you kick a chemical system that has settled into a dynamic equilibrium, it will react by adopting a new equilibrium. Is kicking a system in equilibrium a violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment?

9. How can you have deregulation that lowers product safety standards at the same time as tort reform that limits awards for injuries from unsafe products and still keep a straight face?

10. Are you a strict constructionist, holding that the Constitution is a "dead" document? If so, would it be unconstitutional to transport the original Constitution across state lines in a car but constitutional to do so by horse? Also, the element helium was discovered after the Constitution was written. Can I still use it in balloons?

11. If Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg leaves Washington, D.C., heading west at 60 miles per hour and Justice Anthony Kennedy leaves Los Angeles heading east at 70 miles per hour, will they meet before Justice Clarence Thomas asks a question?

12. Einstein showed with relativity that different observers, depending on their relative motion, may see two events as being simultaneous or as one preceding the other. Does that, like, blow your mind? And how should it come into play when evaluating eyewitness accounts?

13. Would you use Microsoft Word to write an opinion in a case involving Microsoft?

14. In the recently concluded Scopes-like trial of Kitzmiller v. Dover School District, one of the defendants claimed not to know the source of the funds for 60 copies of an intelligent-design book, which he admitted to only having glanced through, for the school library. He was then confronted with his own canceled check. Should such a defendant face charges of perjury or, despite the Eighth Amendment implications, be forced to actually read the book?

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