Palin fumbles question on Supreme Court decisions, endorses privacy right

Maybe she really doesn’t read newspapers. In an exchange that has had pundits buzzing for days — before anyone outside CBS News had even seen it — Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin squirms and spouts mildly connected phrases when asked to name a Supreme Court decision that she disagrees with by CBS anchor Katie Couric, in an interview airing Wednesday evening.

Remember, this is a candidate who could be part of an administration nominating Supreme Court justices for at least the next four years. First, Couric asks Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden about Roe v. Wade and other Supreme Court decisions, then throws caution to the wind and asks Palin the same questions:

Palin’s answers defy characterization.

Let’s go straight to the transcript:

Couric Why, in your view, is Roe v. Wade a bad decision?

Sarah Palin: I think it should be a states’ issue not a federal government-mandated, mandating yes or no on such an important issue. I’m, in that sense, a federalist, where I believe that states should have more say in the laws of their lands and individual areas. Now, foundationally, also, though, it’s no secret that I’m pro-life that I believe in a culture of life is very important for this country. Personally that’s what I would like to see, um, further embraced by America.

Couric: Do you think there’s an inherent right to privacy in the Constitution?

Palin: I do. Yeah, I do.

Couric: The cornerstone of Roe v. Wade.

Palin: I do. And I believe that individual states can best handle what the people within the different constituencies in the 50 states would like to see their will ushered in an issue like that.

Couric: What other Supreme Court decisions do you disagree with?

Palin: Well, let’s see. There’s, of course in the great history of America there have been rulings, that’s never going to be absolute consensus by every American. And there are those issues, again, like Roe v. Wade, where I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there. So you know, going through the history of America, there would be others but …

Couric: Can you think of any?

Palin: Well, I could think of … any again, that could be best dealt with on a more local level. Maybe I would take issue with. But, you know, as mayor, and then as governor and even as a vice president, if I’m so privileged to serve, wouldn’t be in a position of changing those things but in supporting the law of the land as it reads today.

Sounds like something generated by the “Interview Palin” Web site, doesn’t it? We’ll leave it to readers to decide whether a vice presidential nominee should know a few Supreme Court decisions off the top of the head, but .. Bush v. Gore? Plessy v. Ferguson? Dred Scott? The average high school senior can reel off at least a handful of high court decisions, good and bad.

More troubling is Palin’s inability to remember Exxon v. Baker, handed down in the distant past of June. It’s the culmination of the nearly 20-year legal battle surrounding the Exxon Valdez spill in — wait for it! — Alaska.

Palin, or a spokesperson, even commented on the decision a few months ago. According to a Juneau Empire story (which also notes Palin is “not currently running for anything”):

“I am extremely disappointed with today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Palin said. “While the decision brings some degree of closure to Alaskans suffering from 19 years of litigation and delay, the court gutted the jury’s decision on punitive damages.”

Palin added, “It is tragic that so many Alaska fishermen and their families have had their lives put on hold waiting for this decision. My heart goes out to those affected, especially the families of the thousands of Alaskans who passed away while waiting for justice.”

Rest assured, she’ll have that one memorized in case it comes up at Thursday’s debate.

More troubling still is an answer Palin actually gave in the Couric interview. When asked whether she believes there’s a constitutional right to privacy, Palin says: “I do. Yeah, I do.”

She then goes on to make a remarkable statement about a “right” modern conservatives have denounced and dismissed as fiction: “… I believe that individual states can best handle what the people within the different constituencies in the 50 states would like to see their will ushered in an issue like that.”

Either it’s a constitutional right, protected for all Americans, or it’s an issue left to the states to decide. Palin’s nonsense-generator seems to have blown a gasket under the pressure. Anyone want to guess how long until the McCain campaign “clarifies” her endorsement of the underpinning of Roe v. Wade?

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