The West Wing

Season 5 Episode 17

The Supremes

Aired Wednesday 9:00 PM Mar 24, 2004 on NBC
out of 10
User Rating
124 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

Jed and the staff vet potential Supreme Court appointees; Toby and Andy don't see eye-to-eye on her fact-finding trip to the Middle East; Donna's parents are the unlikely inspiration for the resolution to the problems arising from the judicial confirmation process.

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  • Entertaining but naive.

    This was certainly one of the best episodes of season 5, but it also showed the weaknesses of The West Wing. At times its good intentions make it go into an unreal world. At the heart of the episode there is the matter of choosing a new supreme court justice. Of course the West Wing staff try to get a liberal candidate, but playing a very dangerous political game, they go for a conservative one on condition that the liberal candidate can replace the aging chief justice. Both candidates are introduced as extreme examples of their side of the aisle, later turning out to be very sensible people with some differences in interpreting the law. So supreme court justices are some kind of impartial superhumans? I believe in real life we have discovered that they can take very shortsighted decisions, influenced by politics. Yet, The West Wing chooses to believe in the perfect image of the Supreme Court.

    Having said that, the scene of Toby and Josh arguing outside the Oval Office and President Bartlet peeking from behind the door, is one of the best scenes in the entire seven seasons.moreless
  • This episode has perhaps the best premise behind it. It truly displays why the "West Wing" has so many loyal viewers.

    I do not want to give away any secrets of this episode so let me simply say this, this episode is about both sides compromising without loosing, a balance of the left and right. Furthermore if it were not for one minor director's mistake towards the end this episode would be a perfect 10.
  • Great story

    I like the plot and the politcing that Josh got up to to seize the moment rather than settle on a "mediocre" candidate. These episodes showing the behind the scenes manoeuvering are infrequent in the series now. I liked the candidates too - its nice to see fresh faces although we won't see them often if at all
  • Probably one of my favorites of the series. Not just because of my Deirdre Lovejoy and Glenn Close obsessions, because of the superb writing.

    To me, this was one of the first episodes since the departure of Sorkin at the end of the fourth season that felt "Sorkinesque". Frankly, in some moments of it I thought maybe he had ghost written it with Debora Cahn. However, this show was one of the highlights of the season for me.

    One reason why I loved this episode was because for the first time I really understood the Supreme Court and how the make up of the court can really turn the balance of important issues. I rewatched this episode right after Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement and it reminded me so much of what is going on now. A Chief Justice was ill a lot and then the sudden surprise of a Justice departing. Although in this show, the departure was literal.

    When Glenn Close walked in you pretty much knew she would probably make it on the Court, but her final position was a definite shock. I didn't imagine her being the Chief Justice or the fact that Chief Justice Ashland resigned at all. He just didn't seem like the kind of guy who'd let that chair go quickly or at all. The fact that the whole scenerio happened because of Donna's mother's cats was wonderful. Yay Meshach and Shadrach you saved the fake nation!

    I loved Josh and Toby fighting it out in the Outer Oval about moderates and when Debbie spritzed Josh in the face, I thought I'd die. C.J and Ryan's uncle singing "American Pie" while drinking = priceless. I did find it odd that there was never a mention of Mendoza at all on the entire episode, since he was Bartlet's first appointee to make it to the Court However, that was my only qualm with this episode.

    Beautifully written and acted, this is a standout of all The West Wing episodes IMO. It's pretty evident the reason why this episode won the 2005 WGA award for Episode Drama.

Robert Picardo

Robert Picardo

E. Bradford Shelton

Guest Star

Glenn Close

Glenn Close

Evelyn Baker Lang

Guest Star

William Fichtner

William Fichtner

Christopher Mulready

Guest Star

Melissa Marsala

Melissa Marsala


Recurring Role

Jesse Bradford

Jesse Bradford

Ryan Pierce

Recurring Role

Lily Tomlin

Lily Tomlin

Debbie Fiderer

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (2)

    • President Bartlet has nominated 3 Supreme Court justices, including Roberto Mendoza in "The Short List" from the first season, and Christopher Mulready and Evelyn Baker Lang in this episode.

    • Josh certainly has a jaded view of the Supreme Court. First, he says there are six centrists, two conservatives and Ashland, a liberal. That makes nine jurists, except that one of the conservatives has just died! Second, he seems to have forgotten that Mendoza, confirmed in the first season, was considered a hardline liberal. Either Josh is such a lefty he considers Mendoza a centrist or Mendoza actually compromised his positions and became one, which seems inconsistent with his character as established in the first season.

  • QUOTES (5)

    • Leo: Let's go, people. First one to find me a Supreme Court Justice gets a free corned beef sandwich.

    • Donna (referring to Mulready): He's on the short list?
      Josh: He is if she is. We may get both.
      Donna : Oh, my God, you're putting my mother's cats on the Supreme Court.

    • Toby (muffled): There is someone in my office.
      Rena: I thought it was your ex-wife.
      Toby: You didn't want to warn me about that?
      Rena: You asked her to come in.
      (Toby walks into his office, Andy is there)
      Andy : She's cute.
      Toby: Late some night, our eyes will meet over the Maritime Comission report. We'll be at the justice of the peace before dawn...

    • Lisa Wolfe (teasing Josh):Three times in one week. In some cultures, we'd be married.
      Josh (stoic) :Chilling.

    • Toby: If -- IF we were gonna try this -- what would be the plan?
      Josh: We give the President and Leo the name. We bring Christopher Mulready in. We bring Lang back in. Hopefully the two of them woo the pants off the President, and he agrees to the deal without noticing he's standing in the gaze of history, pantless.

  • NOTES (4)

    • Music Featured In This Episode: - "Stay" by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

    • Awards and Nominations: This episode won the 2005 WGA Award for Episodic Drama (Deborah Cahn).

    • Cast Changes:
      Stockard Channing and Joshua Malina do not appear in this episode.

    • Music:
      1. When the President starts yelling about Mulready, and Debbie turns up the music to drown him out, we hear the soundtrack of the 1988 movie "Dangerous Liaisons", featuring this episode's guest star Glenn Close.
      2. C.J. Cregg and Senator Pierce sing Don MacLean's "American Pie."


    • Evelyn Baker Lang: If you're [Congressman] Webster, the question is, "Where do you stand on Roe v. Wade?"

      The Supreme Court, in 1973, ruled in the case Roe v. Wade to strike down a Texas law banning abortion. This effectively made abortion a legal procedure in the United States.

    • Senator Pierce: Watch yourself. He's a lean and hungry type.

      Reference to Caesar's line in the Shakespeare play Julius Caesar, "Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look; he thinks too much; such men are dangerous."

    • Judge Mulready: Harlan's jeremiad on Jim Crow.

      John Marshall Harlan (1833 – 1911) was an associate justice of the Supreme Court who strongly dissented against the 1896 decision Plessy v. Ferguson, which established the doctrine of "separate but equal", embodied by the so-called "Jim Crow" laws.

    • Josh : I want more than bright. If we had a bench full of moderates in '54, Separate but Equal would still be on the books, this place would still have two sets of drinking fountains.

      Separate but equal was a policy adopted into law throughout the U.S. Southern states during segregation, stating that African-Americans would receive the same services (schools, hospitals,drinking fountains, bathrooms, etc.), as white Americans, but that there would be different facilities for each race. The facilites were actually unequal, as blacks received poorer facilities than whites did. In 1954, thanks to Brown v The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the Supreme Court outlawed the practice and required all education facilities to be integrated.