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Inside the Beltway = reliably conservative?

At Southern Appeal, "Verity" takes note of a pattern among the seven sitting GOP Justices on the Court, calling it the "abode predictor": the three Justices who've proved most conservative on the high court (Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas) all lived in and about Washington, D.C. before their elevation, while those who've emerged as moderates and liberals (O'Connor, Stevens, Souter, Kennedy) were picked from the rest of the country. The pattern may extend back to some earlier members of the Court as well (for example, moderate Powell and liberal Blackmun hailed respectively from Richmond, Va. and Minnesota). If the "abode predictor" shows itself to be accurate, nominee John Roberts will prove a strong conservative, having sunk deep roots in the capital with his family.

"Verity" offers an unsatisfying explanation for the pattern, positing that Justices who arrive fresh in Washington (but not those who come to town earlier in their careers) adjust their views leftward to win favor with new social circles. Whether or not it is fair to charge members of the Court with the weakness of mind implied by such an analysis, this would seem to overlook an obvious sociological fact about Washington, D.C., which is that for at least twenty years it has been easy for new Republican arrivals to lead a life more or less completely surrounded by conservatives if they wish.

No, the most noteworthy aspect of the "abode predictor" is simply the way it turns on its head one of the standard tropes of American political thinking, namely that "Beltway thinking" and true conservatism stand in antithetical opposition to each other. We will all have to learn a new stock of truisms if it turns out that inside-the-Beltway thinking is the surest guarantor of conservative rigor, while such unspoiled and authentic locales as small-town Minnesota, rural New Hampshire and the ranching sections of Arizona are dangerous sources of squishiness, compromise and modernism.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.