From the Affordable Care Act decision through the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade to the recent hearings on the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court has become a centerpiece of political commentary this year, with an increasingly vocal discourse of ambivalence toward it. Rachel Maddow called Justice Scalia a troll on The Daily Show and devoted a great deal of her show's coverage in that week to the Voting Rights Act hearings. In those segments, as well as The Daily Show's coverage of the same, the idea that the Court could take away (a provision of) a right that even the senate affirmed unanimously. Underlying these liberal expressions of incredulity is an element of fear. With hardline conservatism seemingly more vocal and obstructionist than ever, these pundits implicitly question idea of lifetime terms for Supreme Court justices--extrapolating from the discourse, appointing a "troll" to one of the highest positions of power in our government, with only eight other potential "moderators" to balance.
Although Scalia's recent incendiary remarks certainly heightened this discourse, in fictional television texts, the fear of justices embodying absolute power checked only by personal ethics or death's icy fingers has been dramatized and amplified in the recent scripted drama, Scandal. In the clip for this post, from episode "Nobody Likes Babies," Supreme Court Justice Verna Thornton reveals her role in an election-rigging conspiracy to the president she chose but who was not legally elected. Using soap opera narrative and aesthetic elements, including the reiteration of extended plot arcs and close-ups to heighten the emotional heft of the scene, the mode of exaggeration provides room for the representation of the potential fear lacing through contemporary discourses about the Supreme Court. If Maddow and Jon Stewart only imply unease with the state of the Court and the power of its lifetime appointments, Scandal places a worst-case scenario front and center. Its melodramatic elements make a conspiratorial and murderous justice verisimilitudinous if not realistic. Verna is an extrapolation of the fears some parts of society may be feeling regarding the mostly mysterious and seemingly unchecked power of the Court. Scandal may be deeply pessimistic in its representations of government, but that pessimism is also part of the culture. Verna may represent an attempt to represent a fear of the Supreme Court and work through it in the cultural forum of popular television.