By now everyone has doubtless seen the various stories of the most recent Rick Perry “flub” during an interview with the Des Moines Register where he was briefly unable to remember the name of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. He then went on to refer to “eight unelected and, frankly, unaccountable judges.” Much hilarity ensued.
But after a barrage of questions, the Register has provided some context to that portion of the interview and the Perry campaign’s explanation of precisely what he was talking about. The conversation centered on a court decision dating back to 1963 ( Abington School District v. Schempp) and the issue of prayer in school, where the court ruled against school prayer by a margin of 8-1.
The paper offers up the full transcript of that section of the interview which, in context, might make Perry’s answer look considerably less silly.
Question : Just to clarify. When you talk about day of prayer or prayer in schools are you talking Christian prayer or non-denominational prayer?
PERRY: “What I’m saying is it’s not the government’s business to be telling folks that at the state level. Obviously if a school is a Jewish school in Dallas, Texas, that private school should be able to do that.”
Question: They can. The issue is public schools.
PERRY: “Well then the independent school boards that oversee those should make those decisions, not government. Again, I mean, the idea that we have to be so politically correct that there’s one family that says, ‘Listen, I don’t want my child,’ then that child ought to have the freedom — can sit over there and play Tic Tac Toe or what have you. But the issue is that for Washington to tell a local school district that you cannot have a prayer and a time of prayer in that school, I think, is offensive to most Americans. I trust the people of the states to make those decisions, I trust those independent school districts to make those decisions better than eight unelected and, frankly, unaccountable judges. And it’s one of the reasons that I’ve called for the end of lifetime appointments to federal judgeships. I would go to some set term.”
There’s no way to tell for sure after Perry’s team has had this much time to knock the question around, but the answer fits. Of course, it would have avoided a lot of trouble if Perry had simply said something along the lines of, “.. better than eight unelected and, frankly, unaccountable judges such as we saw in the Abington decision..” But then, the guy is on the campaign war path 18 hours a day and doing grueling, three hour sessions with papers like this every week. It would probably be a bit much to ask of him to dredge up the actual name of a case from almost half a century ago on short notice, no matter how deeply involved he is in the issue of school prayer.
Either way, take it for what it’s worth. We reported on the flub before and it’s only fair to give Governor Perry a chance to respond.