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10 Best supreme Court JustiCe Confirmations

by Brian Clarey

Clarence Thomas

Nominated by President George HW Bush, 1991 Last week, as Article Two of the Constitution was played out yet again in the Capitol, Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s journey brings to mind some of the other memorable confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court of the United States. One who immediately comes to mind is Clarence Thomas, who in 1991 replaced William Brennan to became only the second African American to make it to the highest court in the land. His confirmation hearing was eventful mainly because of leaked testimony by Anita Hill, his attorney/advisor with whom he had worked at the Department of Education and at the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. Hill alleged sexual harassment, saying that Thomas had, among other things, used offensive language, discussed in detail the content of the pornography he watched and once asked who put pubes in his Coke.

Harlan fiske stone

Nominated by President Calvin Coolidge, 1925 Justice Stone is noteworthy because he was the first to testify before the Judiciary Committee after being nominated by his old pal from Amherst Cal Coolidge. In fact, the whole thing was his idea. Stone was a government insider, a former attorney general (also courtesy of Coolidge) who himself appointed J. Edgar Hoover and helped in the formation of the FBI. Stone also had connections to Wall Street through his legal work in New York City, a cause of concern to those in the western states at the time. Stone offered to testify before a committee, which assuaged fears about his Big Business connections and, incidentally, invented the modern confirmation process.

felix frankfurter

Appointed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1939 Frankfurter was just the second nominee to face a Senate confirmation hearing in 1939, after the death of Benjamin Cardozo. Frankfurter, who descended from a long line of rabbis, was one of FDR’s closest advisors, and when he gave the president a list of potential replacements for Cardozo, Roosevelt tore it up and gave Frankfurter himself the nod. The hearing was a simple affair, giving Frankfurter an opportunity to address anti-Semitic slander while overseas, plans were already underway to exterminate millions of Jews.

John marshall harlan ii

Nominated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1955 Shortly after the court decided Brown v. Board of Education, declaring segregation illegal in public schools, Ike reached out to Harlan to replace Justice Augustus Noble Hand. Still reeling from the court’s latest decree, Southern lawmakers delayed Harlan’s confirmation by trying to ascertain whether he was a segregationist. He was not. But he was the first nominee to be questioned by the Senate Judiciary Commitee on his judicial views. Harlan, a Princeton man, managed to get confirmed anyway. Of the 11 senators who voted against him, nine were from the South.

John rutledge

Appointed by President George Washington, 1789 Rutledge, a former South Carolina governor and president (back during the Continental Congress days), served on the very first SCOTUS at the behest of Washington when the Constitution was ratified to include the court’s creation in 1789. Rutledge had survived the siege of Charleston and had lent his judicial mind to much of our early legislation. But though he accepted Washington’s nomination, he did not actually serve on the court until Washington asked him to be its second chief justice after John Jay resigned to become governor of New York.

Abe fortas

Nominated by President Lyndon Johnson, 1965 Fortas, an orthodox Jew from Memphis trained as a violinist, was one of the more interesting characters to have served with the Supremes. A successful trial lawyer who helped introduce modern psychiatry to the legal system, he was viewed as a liberal who lived in LBJ’s pocket — and there was something to that rep. Fortas’ nomination hearings were filibustered by a cadre of Republicans who held the floor for four days, the first of its kind. According to the Washington Post, one South Carolina senator chewed up a whole day by reading passages from James F. Byrne’s memoirs.

Robert Bork

Nominated by President Ronald Reagan, 1987 Reagan thought Bork, who served as attorney general under Richard Nixon, might make a solid compromise on the bench and curry favor with Democrats. But Bork never stood a chance. The Democratic senators were prepared to destroy whomever Reagan nominated out of hand — Joe Biden and Ted Kennedy, in particular, played key roles in Bork’s political dismemberment, but he was also opposed by the ACLU and two sitting jurists; he was the subject of a media campaign narrated by Gregory Peck, and a reporter from the Washington City Paper found and published his video rental list. This was the year the term “Borked,” which means to smear someone in an attempt to prevent them from taking office, entered the lexicon.

Douglas Howard Ginsburg

Nominated by President Ronald Reagan, 1987 After Bork got Borked, Reagan gave the call to Doug Ginsburg who, he reasoned, had enough liberal views to appease the pack of hungry Dems. But in Ginsburg, the Gipper may have overcompensated. Shortly after his nomination, NPR’s Nina Totenberg broke the story that Ginsberg enjoyed frequent marijuana use during his days as a student and teacher. Ginsburg withdrew from consideration almost immediately.

Thurgood marshall

Nominated by President Lyndon Johnson, 1967 LBJ called his historic nomination of the first African American Supreme Court justice “the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man and the right place.” He was confirmed 69-11 in a relatively uneventful process amid the civil rights movement. Marshall later said of LBJ, “I don’t see how he got it through, but he did.”

Harriet miers

Nominated by President George W. Bush, 2005 Hey gang! Remember the time Bush asked his cleaning lady to be the next Supreme Court Justice of the United States? We sure do! Okay, so maybe we’re exaggerating. By 2005, when Bush 43 nominated her, Harriet Miers had worked in the Texas Governor’s Office in many capacities and served in his presidential administration as staff secretary and deputy chief of staff for policy, She also is an actual lawyer, with a degree from Southern Methodist University and a 27-year career in Texas corporate law, and also virtually no experience in a federal courtroom. But the move was seen by many as transparent cronyism, and even some top Republicans feared she was unqualified for the job after she “failed” several meetings with senators and the Senate Judiciary Committee. The die-hard neocons speculated that she might be confirmed by Thanksgiving, but she withdrew her nomination on Oct. 27. In January 2007 she resigned from politics and is now a private-practice lawyer in Texas.

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