Thursday, March 25, 2010

Supreme Court Nominees: No Presidential Wannabes Need Apply

There is no perfect SCOTUS nominee.  One suggestion for Obama has been that he nominate himself.  Obama would therefore join the rarified company of a POTUS who became a member of SCOTUS: kudos if you can name that person (pictured below) without any research.


And further kudos if you know who was responsible for William Taft pursuing the presidency first when he really wanted to be on the Supreme Court: according to Taft's Presidential bio on, his wife is to blame.

But what about SCOTUS members who have presidential aspirations?  There have been quite a few, as discussed in an intriguing new paper by ConLawProf William G. Ross.   Ross charts the changes in US political culture, noting that:

In at least three quarters of the presidential elections between 1832 and 1956, one or more Justices attempted to obtain a presidential or vice presidential nomination or were prominently mentioned as potential candidates. Several Justices conducted covert presidential campaigns, and a few even openly campaigned from the bench. On numerous occasions, political parties or political leaders encouraged Justices to become presidential candidates. One Justice, Charles Evans Hughes, resigned from the Court to accept a presidential nomination. 

No Justice during the past half century, however, appears to have entertained serious presidential ambitions.

Professor Ross suggests this change is all for the good.  He concludes that  presidential "ambition is hazardous to the Court's integrity" because a Justice could alter - -  - or be perceived to alter - - - his or her judgments in light of the presidential prospects.  This would "impair the prestige that the Court must have in order to command public support for its decisions."    Although Ross recognizes that the Court "might benefit from the experience of a career politician," nevertheless a Presidential nomination to the Supreme Court should occur only if the President is convinced the nominee "lacked any further political ambition."


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