Much like the window of time in which Stephen Breyer can quit without dooming America to a century of rule by a 7-2 conservative Supreme Court supermajority, 2021 is drawing rapidly to a close. Unless a justice chokes on a Christmas cookie or makes a drunken, spontaneous retirement announcement just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, Balls & Strikes will take some time off this holiday season and resume publishing in January.
Balls & Strikes launched in the fall with a simple premise: that a Republican-controlled Court poses an existential threat to democracy; that most legacy media coverage of this dynamic is very, very bad; and that journalists should spend more of their time writing about the conservative legal movement’s efforts to reshape the law in ways that entail profound consequences for everyday people, instead of operating in a Schoolhouse Rock-ass alternate reality in which judges are morality robots who just call, well, balls and strikes. Although we cannot yet claim credit for single-handedly bullying the entire Senate Democratic caucus into backing legislation to expand the Court, we do have high hopes for 2022, and look forward to firing off some deranged, euphoric tweets alongside all of you whenever that day comes to pass.
In the meantime, the new year is set up to be an absolute fucking horrorshow, as the conservatives continue to frog-march the nation back towards eras when things like “civil rights” and “human dignity” were expressly reserved for the white, wealthy, and powerful. Soon, the Court will decide landmark cases that could end the right to abortion care, eviscerate the government’s ability to fight climate change, and create a brave new world in which enacting meaningful gun safety legislation will be more or less impossible. Lower court judges, meanwhile, are engaged in a perpetual slapfight over who can write the most unhinged opinion declaring COVID-19 mandates an affront to the First Amendment. At this rate, it will be unconstitutional to not prominently display a wax figurine of Antonin Scalia in every courtroom in America by the end of 2023.
The current structure of the federal government does not empower Balls & Strikes to stop any of this from happening, but we will be there to cover these developments every step of the way. 2022 will, of course, feature more writing from our wildly talented cast of regular contributors, all of whom manage to hold down full-time jobs in addition to their work breaking down the legal system’s myriad failures in minute detail. There will be lots more from Yvette Borja, who joined Balls & Strikes as a full-time staff writer last month (say hi!). There will be cool new additions to the site’s Court Data section, which remains the most complete source of information about the federal judiciary available on Mark Zuckerberg’s internet. There will be more guest essays from journalists, legal practitioners, elected officials, and however many cool law professors we are able to find. At long last, there will even be a newsletter, as soon as we figure out how to use the newsletter publishing software necessary to deliver it to your inbox.
As always, we are eagerly looking for more people with smart things to say about the courts, the judicial nominations process, and the legal system—especially those whose perspectives are chronically absent from the editorial pages of legacy publications. (For a sense of what we have in mind, below are some of our most popular articles from this year, along with a few gems you might have missed.) You can pitch us anytime here. We pay for work in U.S. dollars, and will never tell you that you can’t say that Sam Alito looks like Reactionary Vinny Gambini because it is “disrespectful to the sacred judicial oath” or whatever.
Otherwise, thank you so, so much for all your support of Balls & Strikes in 2021: for reading, for following, for commenting, and for telling your friends, family, and strangers on the street that there’s a better choice for legal analysis than reading Noah Feldman’s latest Bloomberg column. We are grateful for and flattered by all the positive feedback, and remain undeterred by the weak, jealous haters who think we’re too mean to John Roberts. Happy holidays to you and your loved ones, and see you in 2022.
5-4’s Peter Shamshiri on the legacy of the conservative legal movement’s fondest poll tax apologist.
Say it with appellate lawyer Hannah Mullen: Rights without remedies are meaningless!
Josie Duffy Rice takes a closer look at Wooden v. United States, and the legal system’s nasty habit of reducing violations of your legal rights to arcane, technical questions.
Emmett Witkovsky-Eldred details the chief justice’s instrumental role in creating the conservative juggernaut over which he now presides.
B&S Editor-in-Chief Jay Willis awards Stephen Breyer’s longhand LiveJournal entry 0 out of 5 stars.
Elie Mystal explains how the expansive use of the Supreme Court’s shadow docket has transformed the institution into an express checkout lane for reactionary politics.
B&S staff writer Yvette Borja examines the foundational cruelties of U.S. immigration law that narrowly-defined questions allow justices and judges to scrupulously ignore.
5-4’s Rhiannon Hamam wrote this essay, which is as self-explanatory as it is evergreen.
“Before the politics of white grievance wore a red hat, it wore a black robe,” writes Congressman Mondaire Jones in a guest essay for Balls & Strikes.
Madiba K. Dennie unpacks the powerful incentives for conservative law students to jump-start their careers by fighting culture wars as loudly as possible.
Sam Mellins previews the Biden administration’s looming fight to nominate judges in red states—and whether Senate Democrats will allow Republicans to hold up the process.
Adam Cohen tries to decide what’s worse: that the federal judicial code of conduct is so weak, or that it doesn’t apply to Supreme Court justices at all.
Lisa Needham breaks down the Biden commission’s decision to call out the failure of the death penalty and the justices’ continued willingness to tolerate it.