Help Wanted, Supreme Court Justice, No Experience Required

There are times when I honestly can’t tell the difference between satire and proposals made in earnest. Jeffrey Rosen’s op-ed in the Washington Post, suggesting that President Obama nominate himself for the next Supreme Court opening, is an instance of that. Mr. Rosen lauds the president’s educational background, his presumed judicial philosophy, and his restrained temperament.

He also points to the example of Earl Warren as that of a politician appointed to the court with little or no judicial experience. The example is poorly chosen.

Earl Warren was, arguably, the most popular politician in America. By the time he was nominated to the Supreme Court, Warren had held elective office in his home state of California for fifteen years. He had been elected as Attorney General in 1938, nominated by the Republican, Democratic, and Progressive Parties. He had been elected governor of California three times, still the only person to have done so.

But, most importantly, he had demonstrated an appetite for the activity of governing, something he manifested throughout his tenure as Chief Justice.

That’s something we have yet to see in President Obama. We know that he likes to run for office, we know that he likes to be in the public eye, and we know that he likes to give speeches. So far I, at least, have yet to see any real interest on his part for the fine, detail work of holding political office. That’s something at least as necessary for a justice of the Supreme Court as it is for a president.

10 comments… add one

  • malthus

    Obama seems eminently qualified. Like almost all of SCOTUS, he has never run a business, worked at a real job, mastered either math, science or economics or bothered learning a foreign language.

  • Brett

    Earl Warren was, arguably, the most popular politician in America. By the time he was nominated to the Supreme Court, Warren had held elective office in his home state of California for fifteen years. He had been elected as Attorney General in 1938, nominated by the Republican, Democratic, and Progressive Parties. He had been elected governor of California three times, still the only person to have done so.

    It’s probably a pity he couldn’t go on the Democratic side in the 1950s, after standing as Dewey’s VP nominee in 1948. He probably could have been a serious contender against Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956.

    On a broader note, this is one of my favorite “what if?” topics from US political history – how things might have gone differently if very close Presidential races had gone differently. Like if Nixon had won the close race against Kennedy in 1960, or if Dewey had beaten Truman in 1948. Or if Ross Perot hadn’t ran in 1992. Or if Gore had insisted on a state-wide recount in 2000 instead of certain-districts recount.

  • I’ve got some interesting questions related to this.

    What would happen to the nomination after the ABA found him not to be qualified? Would he be confirmed anyway by the Dem majority? And if not, what would that do to the rest of his presidency? His ability to get the Dem nomination in 2012? To win reelection if he did?

  • Drew

    Have I missed a factual point, Dave?

    As I understand it, you voted for President Obama. What was it that you saw in the man as a candidate, that I didn’t?

    All of the Obama deficits you cite (and more that I could cite) were all obvious for anyone – who cared to – to see.

    Why the change of heart?

  • First, Ann Althouse put it pretty well today. Like her I voted for Obama the Pragmatist not Obama the Ideologue or Obama the Leftist.

    Second, for president I vote primarily for foreign policy. I was concerned about John McCain’s “National Greatness” views and what that might portend for his foreign policy. At this point my primary disappointments with Obama’s foreign policy are how closely he’s followed the Bush foreign policy, with better cosmetics.

  • PD Shaw

    Ah, the restrained temperament of Obama; the only fight in him appears to be to ad hom the Supreme Court (with false claims) in an historic first at the State of the Union. Sorry, progressives that’s the only “tiger” you’re liking to find in the professor — the teacher’s sin of a willingness to criticize those that do.

    Headline: least qualified President in generations nominates self to be least qualified Justice in generations.

  • Michael Reynolds

    McCain’s recent positions and statements have demonstrated the wisdom of voting for Obama. We don’t vote in a vacuum. We vote A or B. Your alternative was a man who would have given us Sarah Palin as vice president to a 67 year-old cancer survivor. McCain was irresponsible, thoughtless and foolish. He put his political profit ahead of the nation.

    I’m moderately pleased with Mr. Obama. We were on the edge of a depression and now we’re not. I think frankly the lot of you are behaving like spoiled children who expect some sort of perfection from their parent. Perfection is not on tap. It never will be.

    But we aren’t in a depression. And we have done as well as we could reasonably have done with Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s handled Iran well. HCR is yet to be resolved.

    Stop behaving like children. We don’t get choices between competing saints or competing paragons. The choice was between the demonstrably immature, unstable and foolish Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama.

  • Were I to evaluate the president’s performance overall, I would say that I am mildly disappointed in his performance on the foreign policy arena and that his performance on the domestic policy front isn’t a great deal different from what I might have expected.

    I would have hoped that we would have withdrawn from Iraq on a somewhat more rapid schedule, that we would not have doubled down in Afghanistan, that the president might have recognized earlier that his various friendly overtures around the world were being ignored, and that he hadn’t gone out of his way to aggravate allies, as I think he has. But these are all rather minor quibbles in the total scheme of things and I think that President McCain would have done far worse. The only difference in foreign policy that I think we might have seen from a President McCain is that he probably would have been more aggressive and that he wouldn’t have raised expectations so high. Probably wouldn’t have pandered on the subject of Guantanamo, either.

    I’m rather surprised that this post is being taken as a criticism of President Obama. It isn’t. It’s a criticism of the notion that he’s qualified to be a Supreme Court Justice. That’s a criticism of the person making the suggestion which I presume is being made in earnest although, as I say in the body of the post, I’m not really sure.

    It isn’t a criticism of President Obama to assert that he isn’t qualified by experience or temperament to be a Supreme Court Justice any more than it would be to say he isn’t qualified by training, experience, or temperament to be SACEUR. Or that, because a guy has a law degree, he’s qualified to be a doctor, too. Or vice versa.

    On Michael’s assertion that President Obama and/or the Obama Administration averted a depression, I’m skeptical. What action or actions have accomplished that? TARP? It was a Bush Administration policy which the Obama Administration has continued and it’s largely been unsuccessful.

    ARRA? I think that any administration, Republican or Democratic, would probably have demanded a stimulus package under the circumstances. The details would have been different and it would take some convincing for me to believe that the details would have been dispositive. Further, I think it’s terribly difficult to make the argument that ARRA is the unitary cause of the turnaround in GDP, a primary component of measuring whether we’re in a depression or not. The timing is wrong.

    BTW, you can’t appeal to the models to demonstrate the counter-factual. The model results that have been published just show what would have happened with no stimulus bill vs. what would have happened with a stimulus bill. Macroeconomic Advisers seems to be an exception to that in that they seem to have taken the actual composition of ARRA into account in their numbers. That still doesn’t prove that an alternative stimulus package wouldn’t have been as good or better.

    The bailouts of GM and Chrysler? A restoration of confidence? All of these in combination? I’m not convinced. I think a better argument can be made that what we’ve seen so far is just the business cycle.

  • sam

    I recall Ike saying the Warren appointment was one of the worst mistakes of his presidency. Warren was famous for asking during oral argument, “But is it fair?”

  • But, most importantly, he had demonstrated an appetite for the activity of governing, something he manifested throughout his tenure as Chief Justice.

    Ick.

    I’m moderately pleased with Mr. Obama. We were on the edge of a depression and now we’re not.

    Don’t think so. If this were true, I highly doubt the small amount of money that has been spent via the stimulus and even TARP (although that is technically a Bush creation) would prevent such an event.

    This is not 1929/1930. We have a much larger portion of our economy linked to government spending which at the very least is acyclical. That is, it doesn’t vary with the economic cycle in absolute terms, and probably increases as a share of GDP. It acts, to some degree, as an automatic stabilizer. We also had a Fed that pumped vast amounts of money into the economy, something the Fed in 1929/1930 did NOT do and in fact allowed the money supply to shrink. We also were not on the gold standard with all the problems that implies (see here). I really don’t think that absent the stimulus spending we’d be seeing unemployment in the 20% or higher range.

    I think frankly the lot of you are behaving like spoiled children who expect some sort of perfection from their parent.

    Ahhh parentalism rears its ugly head. Yes. Mr. Presiden please take care of us, your children. Meh.

Leave a Comment