Saturday, May 17, 2008

The White House announcer calls him "Justice Breyer."

It's our new Supreme Court nominee, Stephen G. Breyer, but he's not Justice Breyer until the Senate confirms him.

Some Democratic senators have grumbled that the President allowed Republicans to dictate his choice....

Mr. Clinton said: "The Constitution requires the President to seek not only the consent, but the advice, of the United States Senate. And I did that."
I like to see a solid, sensible, moderate justice, but I can see why some Democrats are grumbling. When they get finally their shot at a nominee — who knows how long it will be before they get another? — they want somebody strong, representing their point of view. It's been decades since we've had a truly passionate liberal on the Court. I'm thinking of William O. Douglas. But it's been a while since we've seen the likes of Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan. Harry Blackmun was the closest thing we had to a liberal, and now he's to be replaced by this Stephen Breyer character who, everyone knows, Bill Clinton rejected the first time around because he was too coolly dispassionate.
Elaine Jones, the director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, expressed some reservations about Judge Breyer. "He's a brilliant legal mind, no doubt about it," she said in an interview. "I know he's got the capacity, but he's got to have the fervor, too."
Yes, "fervor"... it sounds wrong for a judge. But don't we need at least some judges with fervor? Our conservative Justices seem rather fervent at times. Can Stephen Breyer offset them properly? You have to look at the whole array of Justices and think about the balance — try to predict how they will interact.
But the dissent today was mostly around the edges of the debate. Senator Alan K. Simpson, Republican of Wyoming, dismissed the suggestion that Mr. Clinton had nominated Judge Breyer to avoid a messy confirmation fight over his first choice, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

"Well, I had the biggest laugh of the day on that," he told reporters after the Rose Garden ceremony. "I mean, how the hell do a couple of ragged Western senators control what the President does in selecting a Supreme Court nominee? I can't imagine."
Wait. Was Simpson laughing deviously? Look at that quote. He laughed and he wondered how it could be that a little old Senator like him could manipulate a President. That doesn't mean he didn't think he did it. Maybe he's just amazed that the Prez caved. Ha ha ha — biggest laugh of the day.
Mr. Clinton agreed. "I think that when you do consult broadly, and you think about it and you're personally involved in it, as I've tried to be, you tend to make the right decision," he said.
Well, of course, he's going to assert that he made the right decision. But didn't Clinton cave?
It was last Saturday, May 7, when President Clinton first began to appreciate that his effort to choose a Supreme Court nominee was going to be far more difficult than he had hoped. Although Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's name had been under consideration for some weeks, Mr. Clinton realized that his choice of the moment would not sail through the Senate and could create a wider set of political problems.

Further, one of the President's other two top candidates, Judge Richard S. Arnold, a friend from Arkansas, has cancer. That left only Judge Stephen G. Breyer of Boston. Mr. Clinton had regarded him as aloof and unappealing when they met last year, but in the end, Judge Breyer presented the fewest problems, and his friends convinced the President that he had misjudged him.

Although they had been engaged in a search for the past six weeks, Mr. Clinton and his top advisers, including, at important moments, his wife, Hillary, found themselves plunged into a tumultuous deliberation over the last week. The process was more public than they had wanted and hinged far less on jurisprudence than on personal and political considerations, including a possible fight over Mr. Babbitt's successor that could complicate Mr. Clinton's highest priority, health care.

The President found himself lobbied heavily by supporters of Judge Breyer, the man he named on Friday. Judge Breyer's backers lauded him as one of the nation's top jurists. One even sent a videotape meant to humanize the man Mr. Clinton had rejected for an earlier Court vacancy....

Judge Breyer was a finalist last year when President Clinton chose Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg as his first nominee to the Court. White House officials said they had turned away from Judge Breyer then because he had not fully paid Social Security taxes for a nanny, a hot issue at the time in Washington.

But in truth, officials acknowledged, the principal reason for the rejection was that Mr. Clinton found Judge Breyer didactic and distant when they met to discuss the nomination. The President, one White House official said, thought him distinctly uncharming.
Read that whole article. Clinton was excessively attentive to Senators, it seems. Do you think that if the next President is a conservative Republican, he's going to worry about Democratic Senators or that he will simply pick the very best conservative jurist he can find and fight for him or her? If the latter, those who want a passionate liberal now will be saying, but Bill Clinton consulted with Senators from the opposite party and nominated someone that everyone felt comfortable with. And those who are having a big laugh this week will be having another big laugh. Nice going, Bill. And good luck with that health care plan.


1 comment:

Roger Sweeny said...

The funniest thing about this story is that in the 13 years since, Breyer has been a consistent voter with the Court's "liberals."

Simpson may have gotten his ego stroked but in terms of substance, he got nothin'.

(In fact, he may have gotten less than nothing. Question: who would have been better at persuading swing votes Kennedy and O'Connor, Babbitt or Breyer?