Who Should Be In Charge of the Robots?

On Tuesday, November 6th, Americans will decide who should be in charge of the robots.  I am referencing a 1974 letter by the famous and now deceased Ray Bradbury, whose politics I do not share but whose observations and writing I appreciate:

We are all mysteries of light and d-ark (sic).  There are no true ;conservatives (sic), liberals, etc, in the world. Only people.   …

 [Robots] are extensions of people, not people themselves. Any machine, any robot, is the sum total of the ways we use it.  …

 I am not afraid of robots. I am afraid of people, people, people.

The use of drones, the unmanned combat airplanes that the U.S. military has been using for “targeted killing,” came up only very briefly in the third Presidential debate last month, with Mitt Romney endorsing President Obama’s position on the issue by saying,

I … feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology and believe that we should continue to use it to continue to go after the people who represent a threat to this nation and to our friends.

So, when it comes to who should be in charge of those robots, it seems like there wouldn’t be much difference (of course, we don’t know the nuances of their approaches), but other aspects of the government are also “extensions” of the people in charge, and so the person we elect on November 6th matters quite a bit in several arenas.

Let’s talk about judges.

Judges are, of course, not “robots” incapable of independent thought.  Despite the oft-repeated claim that judges should try to be “umpires,” they are just people, people with political views and life experiences of their own who are appointed by the executive and confirmed by elected senators on the basis of those views and experiences (I’m referring to federal judges; state judges are often elected, depending on the state).  Like Bradbury’s description of robots being “extensions of people,” it’s fair to say that federal judges are, to some degree, an “extension of” the President and his or her party, and too many judges bring that partisanship to the bench when they decide cases.

Thankfully, even in the United States Supreme Court, perhaps the most partisan of them all, judges sometimes break from party lines.  For example, President Bush-appointed Chief Justice Roberts wrote the decision that saved the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature piece of legislation.  Then there are times when a political agenda seems to be the most salient factor, such as the ignominious per curiam — meaning, no judge took credit for writing the decision — decision in Bush v. Gore, in which the conservative Justices thwarted the recount mandated by Florida law, and thus essentially declared George W. Bush president in 2000.

So, the question is, which presidential candidate do we want to appoint judges to the federal bench?  These are the judges who will decide the next book banning case, the next marriage equality case, the next reproductive autonomy case, the next case that will impact our daily lives.  President Obama and Governor Romney would appoint very different judges, and it’s a difference that I hope voters will consider when casting their ballots.

If Ray Bradbury were alive today, he and I would probably choose different people to be in charge of the drones, judicial nominations, and other parts of our government.  The good thing is that this political difference doesn’t interfere with my enjoyment of his books.

The image is a compilation of: Drone, By Pearson Scott Foresman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; Cover of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451Scale of Justice, By Scale_of_justice_2.svg: DTR derivative work: Agradman (Scale_of_justice_2.svg) [GPL (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

9 thoughts on “Who Should Be In Charge of the Robots?

    1. I’m so relieved it didn’t turn out to be such a tense night! I was at the polls from 6:15 am (to open at 7 am) until 9 pm (having closed at 8 pm) on Tuesday, and we had wonderful turnout in my precinct. I was very proud of where I live.

    1. I wish more people cared about how closely connected to politics judges are. The judiciary affects people’s lives in such profound ways! I am optimistic about the federal judiciary after Tuesday’s results, and I imagine more conservative individuals are hoping the Justices responsible for Bush v. Gore hang on at least a few more years.

  1. It often seems to me humanity is on a collision course with itself and the planet, and it’s very possible there is no way to stop the inevitable from happening.

    If one considers the great sweep of time since life began here, and all the species that came into existence only to vanish a short time later, humans are merely another species destined for extinction. It’s a shame we seem to be doing everything possible to hasten that sad day.

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