The Magazine

It’s Still Her Courtroom

The jurisprudence of Judge Judy.

May 7, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 32 • By CHARLOTTE ALLEN
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Like many members of America’s “cognitive elite” (I’ve got a string of fancy degrees to prove it), I’ve taken the “How Thick Is Your Bubble?” quiz in Charles Murray’s Coming Apart, which explores the brainy upper crust’s alienation from the dimmer and poorer lumpenproletariat that lives in trailers and deems crystal meth, not appletinis, its recreational drug of choice. 

Photo of Judge Judy


My score on Murray’s test was a mere 22—signifying a dense enough elitist bubble encasing my skull to leave me puzzled as to why, if I’m so smart, I’m not rich enough to live in one of those leafy “Super ZIP Codes” (as Murray calls them) where my fellow members of the ruling class make their cavernous homes and send their offspring to those five-figure-tuition private schools that train the little ones to run the country while voting liberal-Democratic, just like their parents.

One question in the quiz stopped me short, however: “Have you ever watched an Oprah, Dr. Phil, or Judge Judy show all the way through?” 

Nah on Oprah and Phil (way beyond my bubble)—but Judge Judy? My favorite show on television, not counting Seinfeld reruns! I’d watch Judge Judy all day long (and as a resident of the District of Columbia I practically can, with a full hour-and-a-half of Judy every weekday on two different local channels), except for the fact that I work at home and feel obliged to spend at least some of my time at my desk. I also can’t take the pile-on, numbingly repetitive commercials at every Judy intermission for goods and services that I don’t want: personal injury lawyers, automobile title loans, replacing your wall-to-wall carpeting with new and different wall-to-wall carpeting, Totino’s frozen pizza (that’s the stuff with the fake cheese), IHOP (the pancake chain that according to Coming Apart is down there with Applebee’s as a “bottom 30 percent” restaurant destination), and most recently and strangely, the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s fundraising Race for the Cure. (Komen’s Machiavellian strategy might be that since the lower orders cling bitterly to religion as well as guns, they might open their wallets to Komen as a recent target of an abortion-focused Planned Parenthood jihad.)

Judge Judy is a wonderful television show—and wildly popular (it’s been the top-rated daytime syndicated program since 2009, when it first surpassed Oprah)—precisely because it affirms the very moral order that Murray argues has been abandoned in principle by the cognitive elite and in practice by those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. Judge Judy is Judith Sheindlin, a onetime family court judge in Manhattan transplanted to a simulated courtroom in Hollywood where she “hears”—actually imposes binding arbitration on—an endless stream of “small claims” disputes involving relatively minor sums of money and parties willing to appear before Sheindlin and the cameras without a lawyer. Judge Judy litigation typically involves property vandalism (with the alleged culprit usually being an aggrieved ex-husband, ex-wife, ex-boyfriend, or ex-girlfriend of the victim), bounced checks, welshed-on loans, skipping out of premises without paying the rent, and auto accidents that often feature “open containers” of cheap beer on the floor of at least one of the involved vehicles.

Sheindlin wastes no time, minces few words, and evidences little sympathy toward either plaintiffs or defendants in these disputes. “I don’t believe you!” she yells at a guy who claims that the car he totaled (which belonged to his now-former girlfriend) was mysteriously smashed by an unknown hit-and-run driver in a Walmart parking lot while he was inside the store shopping. “Did you tell your girlfriend this Walmart story?” Sheindlin quizzes the ex-boyfriend, who, according to the ex-girlfriend (suing him over the destroyed vehicle), had earlier told her he crashed the car into a tree after falling asleep at the wheel. “Judgment for the plaintiff for $3,000!” rules Sheindlin, banging down her gavel—and that’s it. As she explains a few seconds later: “If the story doesn’t make sense, it’s not true.”

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