A Clinton on the Court? Go Younger, They Would Advise

By Evan Harris

Apr 18, 2010 9:00am

I asked former President Bill Clinton why he isn’t on the short list for a Supreme Court appointment, to follow in the footsteps of President William Howard Taft, the last former president to be appointed to the Court. Clinton told me in my EXCLUSIVE “This Week” interview he would enjoy it, but he didn’t think it would be a good idea, because he’s too old and he’d like to see someone younger on the court.  “Because I’m already 63-years-old, I hope I live to be 90.  I hope I’m just as healthy as Justice Stevens is.  But it’s not predictable.  I’d like to see him put someone in there, late 40s, early 50s, on the court and someone with a lot of energy for the job.  And I don’t think that’d be a good choice,”  Clinton said.


I asked Clinton about Senator Orrin Hatch’s suggestion that another Clinton, his wife, might be a good choice.   The former President said the Secretary of State “would be great at it” and “at one point in her life she might have been interested in it.”  But, he added, “she’s like me, you know, we’re kind of doers.  We like being out there and doing things, rowing our own boat and making changes we could see happen.”  Hillary Clinton turned 62 in October and Mr. Clinton said, if  asked, she would also “advise the president to appoint some 10, 15 years younger.”


Mr. Clinton raised the issue of diversity as a consideration when I asked him about his Supreme Court advice to President Obama.  “My advice to him would be to first of all see what the court is missing. Does it matter if he puts a Catholic or a Jewish person or someone of another faith on a court, there might—there would be no Protestants on the Supreme Court.  Does that matter?  Does there need to be another woman on the court?  Should there be some other group represented?”


Clinton added he hopes the President look beyond the bench and “take a look at somebody who hasn’t been a judge.”   “The important thing,” Clinton said, “is that you think they’re smart and they’re competent and they understand the lives of ordinary people.”


Clinton said he doesn’t expect President Obama will pick a fight with the Senate over his nominee, but he shouldn’t avoid one.  “I think it will be very difficult to just outright block a Supreme Court nominee that’s otherwise qualified,” Clinton said. 


While we were on the topic, Clinton took a shot at the Court’s Bush v Gore decision, calling it one of the “most bizarre rulings in the history of the Supreme Court I think one of the five worst.”


WATCH VIDEO HERE:

TAPPER:  Switching to some of the political issues going on, President Obama now has a Supreme Court vacancy to deal with.  It’s almost impossible to believe, looking back on it, but your first justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who will be likely, the most liberal member of the court once Stevens resigns, she was confirmed 96 to 3.  Senator Orrin Hatch, who is the leading Republican in the Senate Judiciary Committee, has credited you with really bringing him into the consultation process. What advice would you give President Obama?  Because Republicans are saying he’s not including them in this.
 
CLINTON:  Well, I think for one thing, I had to do a little more of that because I never had a filibuster-proof Senate.  And now there are 41 of them, although I think that a lot of those who come from more progressive states, the two Maine senators, the new senator from Massachusetts, a lot of them may think they already gave it to store on the health care deal or whatever they’re doing on financial reform.  I think it will be very difficult to just outright block a Supreme Court nominee that’s otherwise qualified.  Especially after the Democrats confirm, allowed a vote on Clarence Thomas, and Justice Scalia and a lot of other people who were — Justice Roberts, Chief Justice Roberts.
 
My advice to him would be to first of all see what the court is missing. Does it matter if he puts a Catholic or a Jewish person or someone of another faith on a court, there might—there would be no Protestants on the Supreme Court.  Does that matter?  Does there need to be another woman on the court?  Should there be some other group represented?  Because Justice Stevens was part of the four-person progressive block, he will of course nominate someone who will be part of that.  We’ve seen the hard way in the Citizens United case and campaign finance and in Bush v. Gore, during the most bizarre rulings in the history of the Supreme Court and I think one of the five worst, what the consequences of that are.
 
But I would also not — I don’t expect him to intentionally pick a fight with the Senate, but he can’t avoid it.  If he finds somebody that he thinks is just the best person, but the most important thing is he needs to be really proud of the people he puts on the court.  The two people I put on the court have made me proud.  I haven’t agreed with every decision they’ve made.  That’s not the important thing.  The important thing is that you think they’re smart and they’re competent and they understand the lives of ordinary people.  Now one thing I think he should think about is have we gotten — have we gone too far in this process that assuming only judges can be elected?  That somehow you’re not qualified if you weren’t a judge.
 
Some of the best justices in the Supreme Court in history have been non-judges, people that – as Hugo Black once famously said, had been sheriffs and county judges, people that have seen how the lofty decisions of the Supreme Court affect the ordinary lives of Americans.  You know, I tried to persuade both Senator Mitchell and Governor Cuomo to accept appointments to the court and for different reasons, neither one wanted to do it.  I think they would have been fabulous justices.  And — George Mitchell had been a judge, but he was also a senator.  I think that — I hope he’ll take a look at somebody who hasn’t been a judge.
 
TAPPER:  William Howard Taft, eight years after his presidency, went to the Supreme Court.  I’ve heard some Democrats say why isn’t Bill Clinton on any of these short lists?  Would you enjoy doing that?
 
CLINTON:  I think I would enjoy it, but I don’t think it would be a good idea.
 
TAPPER:  Why?
 
CLINTON:  Because I’m already 63-years-old, I hope I live to be 90.  I hope I’m just as healthy as Justice Stevens is.  But it’s not predictable.  I’d like to see him put someone in there, late 40s, early 50s, on the court and someone with a lot of energy for the job.  And I don’t think that’d be a good choice. 
 
TAPPER:  Senator Hatch raised the subject of a different justice Clinton, your wife, do you think she’d be good at that?
 
CLINTON: Oh, she would be great at it, but – and I think at one point in her life she have might been interested in it.  But she’s like me, you know, we’re kind of doers.  We like being out there and doing things, rowing our own boat and making changes we could see happen, and again, I think if she were asked, she would advise the president to appoint some 10, 15 years younger.

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