In the matter of judicial nominations to the Supreme Court since Dwight Eisenhower was elected, Democratic presidents have achieved much higher batting averages than Republicans.
Indicative of the disasters to follow, President Eisenhower appropriately inaugurated the Republican Party’s long-term futility by nominating Earl Warren in 1953 to be chief justice. Three years later the president compounded the Warren fiasco by selecting William Brennan, who would drive Republicans crazy for the next 33 years.
President Kennedy nominated Byron White and Arthur Goldberg. The former mirrored the president’s centrism for more than three decades, and the latter inexplicably relinquished a lifetime Supreme Court appointment after three years for a temporary assignment at the United Nations. Nobody doubts that President Johnson got precisely what he wanted when he nominated liberals Abe Fortas and Thurgood Marshall.
One of President Nixon’s worst mistakes was selecting Harry Blackmun, who authored the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion on demand. President Ford struck out by putting John Paul Stevens on the court for three decades and counting. Thankfully, Jimmy Carter never had the chance to mal-effect the court the way he did the presidency and the nation.
President Reagan used his first opportunity to shape the court by pursuing an ill-advised affirmative-action policy, whose consequences were sufficiently disappointing that Democrats today are begging for a comparable appointment to replace Sandra Day O’Connor, who has spent nearly a quarter century on the court. Mr. Reagan’s brilliant selection of the even more brilliant Antonin Scalia was subsequently compromised by his horrible choice of Anthony Kennedy, whose disappointing presence seems to grow as the years go by.
It has been 15 very long years since President George H.W. Bush nominated David Souter, who gets worse with the passing of each year. Say what you want about Bill Clinton, but when it came to selecting justices for the Supreme Court, he knew how to pick them. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, having firmly established themselves as pillars on the left wing of the court since taking their positions in 1993 and 1994, respectively, are providing extended tenures of service in the pursuit and defense of the tenets of liberalism.
To get a snapshot of Republican futility over the years, take a look at the court. Seven of the nine justices were appointed by Republican presidents, but only three (Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and Justices Clarence Thomas and Scalia) can be firmly placed on the conservative wing. Justices Stevens and Souter are unmitigated disasters. Justice O’Connor disappointed as much as she pleased. And Justice Kennedy, considering who appointed him, has been a huge disappointment, especially in recent years. On the other hand, given the colossal political setbacks suffered by the Democratic Party since the 1992 election, Democratic-nominated Justices Ginsburg and Breyer arguably represent that party’s brightest achievements over the last dozen years.
Now comes the first court nomination of second-term President George W. Bush. Given the history of Republican court nominations over the past 50-plus years, liberals should be forgiven if they feel entitled to have yet another gift handed to them. This time, however, it is liberals we hope will be disappointed.