Judicial Nominees and the Game of Life
Following up on Wednesday’s radio show on President Obama’s upcoming nomination to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, here are some interesting new polling data which show overwhelmingly that citizens see prior judicial experience as the overriding qualification for elevation to the Supreme Court. Not surprisingly, the last time someone from outside the courts was picked as a nominee was in 1972, when the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist was elevated to the bench from the Nixon Justice Department.
As I discussed on Wednesday’s show, Obama has been talking recently about his desire to appoint someone to the bench who has real life experience, and who understands how court decisions impact ordinary people.  Judges can certainly qualify on both of these grounds, but the assumption has been that Obama is talking about appointing perhaps someone from the political or business worlds, or even from academia. Some critics have suggested that this desire hearkens back to Obama’s empathy standard from the Justice Sonia Sotomayor confirmation battle, which led to predictable conservative cries of judicial activism. As a result, the Obama Administration has been very careful to avoid using the word this time around.
The two most frequently mentioned names in this experiential regard are Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm (who is term-limited), and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Both women have served as governor and attorney general in their respective home states. I’m not yet convinced that Obama will go in this direction, but it would be fascinating to see what a political paper trail would mean for confirmation hearings in the current polarized partisan environment, rather than the usual picking over of judicial decisions. Since politics is the art of position-taking and compromise, it could make for some interesting committee dialogue on the true nature of the nominee’s judicial philosophy.

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