JOHN DERBYSHIRE: Call A Deer A Horse—Call Lia Thomas A Woman—Call Ketanji Jackson A Judge. Political Power In Action!
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Adapted from the latest Radio Derb, available exclusively at

Earlier: A Talk Radio Listener Comments On Ketanji Brown Jackson's Qualifications—And Unknown LSAT Scores

The Senate Judiciary Committee, as I'm sure you know, has been holding confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the president's nominee to replace retiring justice Stephen Breyer in October.

I can't say I've followed the hearings closely…or at all, really. My longstanding opinion, which I enlarged on here a few weeks ago, is that Supreme Court justices are not chosen for their wisdom or learning; they are chosen for political acceptability.

That favors mediocrities, and mediocrities is mostly what we get. Our political Establishment does not want anyone with an interesting mind on the court. They made that most vividly plain in the case of Robert Bork.

So these Judiciary Committee hearings usually consist of mediocrities interrogating a mediocrity, with the result a foregone conclusion anyway—Republican senates voting to confirm Republican nominees, Democrats Democrats. Zzzzzzz.

From scattered things I'd read about Judge Jackson I figured her hearing would not be one of the exceptions, so I watched reruns of Two Broke Girls instead.

However, browsing my breakfast-time New York Post on Wednesday I did spot the episode where Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee asked Judge Jackson: "Can you provide a definition for the word 'woman'?" [ Judge Jackson declines to define ‘woman,’ says she’s ‘not a biologist,’ by Mark Moore and Samuel Chamberlain, March 23, 2022]

After some brief to-ing and fro-ing the judge replied: "Not in this context. I'm not a biologist."

Judge Jackson came in for much mockery over that. My favorite among the mockers—I think everybody's favorite—was the British lady who fielded the same question by saying: "I'm not a vet, but I know what a dog is." Tucker Carlson tracked the lady down and gave her a spot on his show Thursday. Her name is Kellie-Jay Keen [Media are afraid to speak against Lia Thomas because of 'cult-like mentality': Kellie-Jay Keen, by Hannah Gross, Fox News, March 24, 2022].

In all fairness to Judge Jackson, there's more to be said than that. She was asked for a definition, and that is indeed a matter of biology. Kellie-Jay Keen knows what a dog is, but can she actually provide a definition for the word "dog"?

One of my schoolmasters told us that the great 18th-century lexicographer Samuel Johnson, in his magisterial dictionary of the English language, defined "dog" as "a familiar quadruped."

That is not actually true. The first folio edition of Johnson's Dictionary is online, and I checked. The first meaning under "dog" is

A domestick animal remarkably various in his species; comprising the mastiff, the spaniel, the buldog, the greyhound, the hound, the terrier, the cur, with many others. 

With all proper respect to the learned Dr. Johnson, I don't think that's even a definition in the strict sense, only a description. I guess I could pursue the matter by looking up Johnson's definition of the words "definition" and "description"…but I've been down enough rabbit holes in my life and don't feel like going down another.

Digging around idly, taking care to avoid rabbit holes, I see that my schoolmaster had only misplaced his source by a few years. A lexicographer of the generation before Johnson, a chap named Nathaniel Bailey, actually did define the word "dog" as "a quadruped well-known [On Dictionaries, by Ernest Weekley, The Atlantic, June 1924].

What was Dr Johnson's definition for the word "woman"? Here it is:

The female of the human race.   

If Dr. Johnson had offered that definition to Senator Blackburn I suspect she'd have asked him to define "female."

Knowing the good doctor's low level of tolerance for imbeciles with important titles, I'm pretty sure he would have stormed out of the hearing at that point, perhaps having first hurled a copy of his dictionary at Senator Blackburn's head.

But what about Judge Jackson? Is she any good, in any respect at all?

Considered just as a human being, she seems pretty normal. She's been married to the same guy for 26 years—a white guy—and they have two kids. In the normality ranking that puts her out ahead of cat ladies Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. And so far as I can gather Judge Jackson's an ADOS, an American descendant of slaves, not an exotic black like Barack Obama or Kamala Harris.

So, points for normality. How about smarts?

Well, as mentioned in the previous segment, I don't expect smart nominees to the Supreme Court, although it occasionally happens by accident. Of the current court, Alito and Thomas strike me as decently smart; they got through the sieve somehow. People tell me that Elena Kagan, cats aside, is pretty intelligent; but never having read any of her opinions, I'll have to take that on faith. That's two or three out of nine, which is as good as it gets.

I doubt Ketanji Brown Jackson's confirmation will raise the court's mean IQ. Any black of course comes under suspicion as an Affirmative Action hire; and as's own correspondent Federale wrote in a blistering piece on March 6th, Judge Jackson's score on the Law School Admissions Test is a closely guarded state secret. So like Obama, this is a person who has been wafted up into the Ruling Class on warm thermals of race favoritism.

And as well as having benefited herself from race favoritism, there are signs she has been practicing it. Republican members of the Judiciary Committee have been making much of the very lenient sentences she's approved for defendants in child-pornography cases. Our own James Fulford went digging into one of these cases—the most-discussed one, in which Judge Jackson ignored the eight-to-ten-years federal sentencing guidelines and gave the guy three months instead. It turns out the defendant, Wesley Hawkins,  was black.

So what we have here is likely not Judge Jackson failing to take kiddie porn seriously, it's Judge Jackson showing partiality to black perps. Might Republican Committee members explore that aspect of the issue?...Hello?

That's funny; they've all dived under their desks.

As Federale also points out, for a member of a profession that is supposed to take the utmost care with words, Judge Jackson doesn't. In a 2019 ruling on an immigration case she used the expression "undocumented non-citizens" in place of "illegal aliens." That isn't just clunky and euphemistic, it's inexcusably wrong. As Federale explains:

The correct legal term for any person not a citizen or national of the United States is "alien," not "non-citizen," as there are persons who are nationals of the United States, but not citizens. Those persons, generally persons born or naturalized in American Samoa and the Swains Islands, are "non-citizens," but are nationals of the United States, have almost all the rights and privileges of citizens, but not all rights and privileges, yet are not aliens. 

So you can be a United States national without being a United States citizen. I'll confess I did not know that.

You may think that for me, a commentator on an immigration-restrictionist website, not to know that fact is shameful, or disappointing, or perhaps pardonable. Wherever you stand on that, you have to admit that for a U.S. District Court judge not to know it, and to expose her ignorance for the world to see when writing her opinion on an immigration case, is outrageous.

Judge Jackson compounded the offense by including, in the very same sentence, the precious little cant phrase "lived experiences."

And yes, of course she is a Cultural Marxist. No surprise there: to a good first approximation, all educated black Americans are Cultural Marxists.

So I don't expect anything good to come from Judge Jackson's confirmation, which will of course happen. The most I hope for is that we may perhaps get some discussion going about the degree to which we've allowed these Kritarchs to take on so much power.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. Article III of the Constitution clearly gives Congress the last word on radical legislative changes. If the people want Affirmative Action, or same-sex marriage, or legalized abortion, let them instruct their representatives accordingly, and vote them out if they don't cooperate. It's not for judges to impose such things.

The problem is that Congress doesn't want to fulfill its responsibilities. It's as loth to restrain the Judiciary as it is to restrain the Executive. We are coming up to the 80th anniversary of Congress declaring war on Bulgaria—June 5th, 1942. That was the last time Congress declared war on any nation, yet we seem to have fought a great many wars in the interim.

This issue about defining what is a woman has come to the fore recently because of this competition swimmer guy Lia Thomas pretending to be a girl so he can win medals.

Some of the consequences in this case have been positively Soviet. Here's a headline from Fox News, March 22nd: Women's advocacy groups silent on transgender swimmer Lia Thomas' domination at NCAA championships, by Timothy H.J. Nerozzi.

Why are they silent?

Why do you think? They're scared. They know that anyone who speaks up will suffer consequences. Other swimmers will of course lose their place on competition teams; but non-swimmers too will meet the wrath of the CultMarx Establishment. You could lose your Twitter account, your job, even your bank account. You could be branded for all time on the social-media databases as a hateful hater filled with hate.

As somewhat of a connoisseur in the matter of Chinese idioms and allusions, I know exactly where I am here.

If you know anything at all about ancient Chinese history you know about Qín Shihuángdì, who founded a dynasty in 221 B.C. and called himself First Emperor—that's what "Shihuángdì" means.

This Emperor of course had a staff of senior officials to run the Empire; and these senior officials of course schemed among themselves for advantage.

The most ambitious of these schemers was a fellow—well, a eunuch—named Zhào Gao. When the Emperor died, Zhào Gao saw the chance to seize supreme power for himself. The succession should have gone to the Emperor's oldest son, whom the Emperor himself had favored; but there was bad blood between Zhào Gao and this oldest son, so Zhào Gao got rid of him and enthroned the Emperor's second son as Second Emperor.

Second Emperor was none too bright, and that suited Zhào Gao fine. Maneuvering behind the scenes, he gathered up more and more power to himself, with Second Emperor as a mere figurehead, a puppet Emperor.

Zhào Gao's ultimate ambition was to put himself on the Imperial throne, but he knew that some of the senior officials would oppose him. He therefore devised a stratagem.

Here comes the story. I'll give it to you straight from the Chinese historian who first recorded it:

One day Zhào Gao presented a deer to Second Emperor. Pointing to the deer, he said: "I offer Your Majesty this horse!"

Second Emperor laughed and said: "Is the Prime Minister joking with me? This is plainly a deer. How can you say it's a horse?"

Zhào Gao replied earnestly: "Who would dare play a joke on His Majesty? It's clear this is a horse. If you don't believe it, ask the others."

Second Emperor thereupon asked the ministers present: "Is this actually a deer, or a horse?"

Those ministers who were trusted followers or toadies of Zhào Gao all said it was a horse. Some others who feared Zhào Gao's power and influence also said it was a horse. Of the few honest ministers, some were silent, but a few insisted that it was in fact a deer. Zhào Gao inwardly noted the names of those honest ministers. Later he found a pretext to have them all killed.
[Records of the Grand Historian: Qin Dynasty, by Sima Qin, about 86 B.C., my translation]

This story is known as "Call a Deer a Horse." Ever since the story was recorded that phrase, "Call a deer a horse," been used as an idiom in China, applicable when those in power make you assent to ridiculous falsehoods for fear of the consequences if you don't.

That's what political power can do, if you have enough of it.

207 B.C: "Call a deer a horse." 2022 A.D.: "Call a man a woman."

Does anything ever change?


John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him.) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He has had two books published by com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.

For years he’s been podcasting at Radio Derb, now available at for no charge. His writings are archived at

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