Byron White

Supreme Court Justice Predictability Not So: Nine Cases From Felix Frankfurter To David Souter

As the hearings continue on the nomination of Circuit Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the question has arisen over whether Supreme Court Justices are predictable in their evolution on the Court.

The argument is that most Supreme Court Justices are “pegged” when they are considered for the Court, and do not disappoint the President and the party which nominated them for the Court.

But history actually tells us that there are quite a few exceptions to this perceived thought.

Felix Frankfurter (1939-1962), appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, migrated from an earlier liberal, almost radical view, to a clearly conservative view, disappointing many Democrats in the process.

Earl Warren (1953-1969), appointed Chief Justice by Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, and thought to be a conservative oriented person, turned out in the mind of many Republicans “a flaming liberal”, totally surprising Eisenhower and many pleased Democrats and liberals.

William Brennan (1956-1990), appointed by Eisenhower, and a rare Catholic on the Court, and thought to be a conservative, turned out to be even more liberal in his jurisprudence, and lasted twice as long as Warren on the Supreme Court, stunning many conservatives and Republicans.

Byron White (1962-1993), appointed by John F. Kennedy, was thought to be a liberal, but was a consistent conservative in his years on the Court.

Harry Blackmun (1970-1994), appointed by Richard Nixon, started off as a conservative, along with his so called “Minnesota Twin” and colleague, Chief Justice Warren Burger, but veered sharply left more and more, diverging dramatically from Burger as the years went by, and honored by liberals as a great Supreme Court Justice.

John Paul Stevens (1975-2010), appointed by Gerald Ford, was thought to be a moderate conservative, but dramatically moved left in his jurisprudence, and remained on the Court for 35 years, third longest of any Justice in history, retiring at age 90, but still active at age 98 (the longest lived Justice ever), and still promoting liberal viewpoints.

Sandra Day O’Connor (1981-2006), appointed by Ronald Reagan as first woman on the Court, turned out to be far less conservative, veering toward the center, and seen as a balance on the Court, unpredictable during her tenure on the Court.

Anthony Kennedy (1988-2018), appointed by Reagan, and just retired, thought to be a hard line conservative, turned out to be the second “swing” vote with O’Connor, and then the true “swing” vote on the Court, joining the liberal side one third of the time.

David Souter (1990-2009), appointed by George H. W. Bush, was thought of as moving the Court to the Right, after William Brennan retired, but many Republicans and conservatives were severely disappointed in his unpredictability, and often his siding with the liberal view on many issues, more than one would have expected.

Notice, however, that seven of these nine cases, all but Frankfurter and White, were of Republican appointments that turned out to be much more “liberal” than one might have imagined, with only Frankfurter and White turning out to be more “conservative” than perceived at the time of their nominations to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court Of 2014 Most Right Wing Since Early 1930s!

The Supreme Court has been controversial at different times in its history, but the present Court of 2014 is considered the most right wing Court majority since the early 1930s!

Since the Warren Court, which began in the 1950s, we have never had such conservative Justices as we have now.

Three of the present Justices are among the most conservative ever to sit on the Court, including Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Clarence Thomas, and Justice Samuel Alito.

If one adds former Chief Justice William Rehnquist and former Associate Justice Lewis Powell, we have the five most conservative Justice since 1953, a period of 60 years.

Not much behind is Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, both capable of surprises in their votes and rulings, but still most of the time joining Scalia, Thomas, and Alito.

These seven named Justices were all picked by Republican Presidents–two by Richard Nixon; two by Ronald Reagan, plus his promotion of Rehnquist to the Chief Justiceship; one by George H. W. Bush; and two by George W. Bush.

But also, Republican Presidents have selected Justices who turned out to be quite moderate, and even sometimes liberal, including Chief Justice Earl Warren and Associate Justice William Brennan by Dwight D. Eisenhower; Chief Justice Warren Burger and Associate Justice Harry Blackmun by Richard Nixon; John Paul Stevens by Gerald Ford; Sandra Day O’Connor by Ronald Reagan; and David Souter by George H. W. Bush.

Since 1953, Republicans have controlled the White House for 36 years, while Democrats have had control for 25 plus years, and that has caused the right wing tilt of the Court, which could have been even more so, if not for the surprises presented by the seven “less” conservative, and some “quite liberal” Justices listed in the above paragraph!

So the Republicans have chosen 17 of the past 25 Justices since 1953, with John F. Kennedy picking two, but one (Byron White) turning out to be conservative, and Arthur Goldberg leaving the Court after only three years, due to the urging of Lyndon Johnson that he become United Nations Ambassador. Johnson selected Abe Fortas to replace Goldberg, but he stayed on the Court for only four years, and left the Court under the cloud of scandal. The first African American Justice, Thurgood Marshall, would go on to serve as a champion liberal for 24 years from 1967 to 1991.

Jimmy Carter would have no appointments to the Court in his four years in the White House, the only such situation in the 20th century, and one of only four Presidents to have had no appointments, but the only one to have a full term in the Presidency. The other three Presidents were William Henry Harrison (one month); Zachary Taylor (16 months); and Andrew Johnson (almost a complete term, but so unpopular that the Senate would not confirm any Court appointments in his time in office).

Bill Clinton selected Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer; and Barack Obama has chosen Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan as his appointments, so far, on the Supreme Court. So note that out of the eight appointments by Democrats in the Presidency, three have been women; five have been Jewish; one has been African American; and one has been Puerto Rican, with only Byron White being a typical white Anglo Saxon Protestant.

The question has now arisen whether Ginsberg, and maybe even Breyer, should retire, and guarantee that Obama could replace them, with the concern that the Senate might go Republican in November, making any Court appointment nearly impossible due to gridlock and stalemate. There is also fear that were the Republicans to win the White House in 2016, which is highly unlikely, that then the Court would be ever more right wing reactionary than it already is.

It is a calculated gamble for Ginsburg and Breyer to remain on the Court for now, but it is not uncommon for Justices to retire at very advanced ages–such as Blackmun at 85 and Stevens at 90!

So do not expect that either will retire, but with a good chance of Democrats retaining the Senate majority in 2014, or regaining it on the back of the Democratic Presidential nominee’s expected major victory in 2016!

The Dangers Of The Supreme Court Run Amuck In Favor Of Wealthy And Corporations!

The Supreme Court is totally out of control, with its new decision on having no limits on campaign spending by wealthy donors, added on to the Citizens United Case of 2010, and the limitation of voting rights in a 2013 decision.

Chief Justice John Roberts has solidified a five member GOP majority to destroy all attempts to prevent corporate and wealthy people from controlling the political system, an effort pursued from the time of Theodore Roosevelt a century ago through Senator John McCain and Senator Russ Feingold in the 1990s and early 2000s.

That is all for naught now, and shows the dangers of a runaway, reckless, right wing radical Court!

This is what made Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Barack Obama criticize Court power, along with progressive reformers including Senator Robert La Follette of Wisconsin, Senator George Norris of Nebraska, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont!

This is the result of 13 Supreme Court nominees since 1960 by Republican Presidents, to only 8 by Democrats, and with two of those Democratic appointments (Arthur Goldberg by John F. Kennedy and Abe Fortas by Lyndon B. Johnson), only lasting three and four years respectively.

Of course, Republican appointments of Harry Blackmun by Richard Nixon; John Paul Stevens by Gerald Ford; Sandra Day O’Connor by Ronald Reagan; and David Souter by George H. W. Bush, turned out to be major surprises in their rulings, but we also ended up with some of the most reactionary and right wing radical appointments in all of American history with the appointments of William Rehnquist by Richard Nixon and the elevation of Rehnquist to Chief Justice by Ronald Reagan; Lewis Powell by Richard Nixon; Antonin Scalia by Ronald Reagan; Clarence Thomas by George H. W. Bush; and Samuel Alito by George W. Bush. The appointments of Chief Justice Warren Burger by Richard Nixon; Anthony Kennedy by Ronald Reagan; and Chief Justice John Roberts by George W. Bush, have been more of a mixed bag, sometimes good, and sometimes horrible in its effect on constitutional law!

Meanwhile, John F. Kennedy selected a mostly conservative Justice Byron White; Lyndon B Johnson selected Thurgood Marshall; Bill Clinton selected Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer; and Barack Obama selected Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, but sadly, their influence in the last four of the five names listed, has been mostly in being the opposition, sometimes vehement in nature!

The effect on the future of American democracy is massive, with this right wing Court majority, and the only hope is the eventual retirement of Scalia and Kennedy, and hopefully, continuation of a Democratic Senate and President for the rest of the decade, so that the Court changes direction in the future!

40 Years Of Roe V Wade: Abortion Controversy Remains Red Hot!

Forty years ago today, the Supreme Court in a 7-2 decision, declared the right of women to an abortion, with three Richard Nixon appointments to the Court–author of the decision Harry Blackmun, and Chief Justice Warren Burger and Associate Justice Lewis Powell—joining two Eisenhower appointees—Potter Stewart and William Brennan—one Johnson appointee, Thurgood Marshall—and one Roosevelt appointee, William O. Douglas—in the majority.

Only Associate Justice Byron White, appointed by Kennedy; and William Rehnquist, appointed by Nixon, were in the minority.

Forty years later, the pro life and pro choice movements are still locked in constant combat, but with public opinion polls showing 54 percent want abortion rights retained all of the time or most of the time, with 44 percent against. And 70 percent in a poll do not want to see Roe V Wade overturned.

But meanwhile, Republican state legislatures in the past two years have passed a total of over 130 laws restricting the rights of abortion, and curbing the number of abortion providers.

Four states have made it almost impossible for women to obtain an abortion—Mississippi, Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

So the federal allowance for abortion may exist, but in the South and Great Plains areas of the nation, it is becoming nearly impossible for abortions to be obtained, no matter whether it is because of rape, incest, life of the mother, or just any other reason, whether seemingly justifiable or not.

Abortion is an emotional issue, and one that most people would say needs to remain legal and safe but also RARE, and should not be used as a method of birth control, or because of reckless personal behavior. It is not an issue that will disappear anytime soon, but for now, the odds of reversing Roe V. Wade on the national level are remote, as Barack Obama will not appoint a Supreme Court Justice who gives any hint of wishing to overturn what many call the most controversial decision of the latter half of the 20th century.

Roe V. Wade Almost 40 Years Later Still Debated, But Five Of Seven Justices In Majority Were Appointed By Republican Presidents Eisenhower And Nixon!

In the midst of the heated debate about abortion rights, rape, Todd Akin, Mitt Romney, and the Republican Party platform which bans ALL abortions, whether rape, incest, or life of the mother, something very significant has been ignored!

The Roe V. Wade case of January 22, 1973 was decided by a 7-2 vote, with FIVE of the seven Justices in the majority being appointed by Republican Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon!

That was an era when Republicans could be in the mainstream, supporting voting rights legislation by vast majorities in Congress, but now 40-50 years later, leading the charge to do everything possible to repeal the legislation, or deny many categories of voters their basic human right to vote.

That was, also, a time of mainstream Republican Justices supporting a woman’s right to privacy with her own body, exactly the opposite of what is happening 40 years later in the Republican Party!

The Republican appointments who supported Roe V. Wade in 1973 were:

William Brennan, appointed by Eisehower
Potter Stewart, appointed by Eisenhower
Chief Justice Warren Burger, appointed by Nixon
Harry Blackmun, author of the decision, appointed by Nixon
Lewis Powell, appointed by Nixon

Two Democratic appointments, William O. Douglas (appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt), and Thurgood Marshall (appointed by Lyndon B. Johnson), joined the five Republicans, with only one Democratic appointment (Byron White, appointed by John F. Kennedy), and one Republican, (William Rehnquist, appointed by Nixon) being in the minority.

How far the Republican Party has wandered from the mainstream of American politics over the past 40-50 years, and the only answer is a sound defeat of the right wing, and bringing the GOP back to the mainstream, or else they will become part of the dustbin of history, being replaced by a centrist party that resembles the proud history of the earlier Republican Party, which understood that an alliance with religion is poisonous to tolerance and the mainstream of American politics!