John Paul Stevens

The Long Term Crisis Of Supreme Court Legitimacy Could Tear This Nation Apart Over Next Few Decades

The US Supreme Court is entering a period which could tear this nation apart over the next few decades.

Here we are in the 21st century, and yet, the Supreme Court could be taking us back to the late 19th century Gilded Age in its constitutional decisions. Now there is a solid five member conservative majority, with the confirmation and swearing in of Brett Kavanaugh, the most contentious nominee with the closest vote in the Senate since Stanley Matthews’ appointment by President James A. Garfield in 1881.

Matthews served nearly eight years on the Supreme Court, having been nominated by President Rutherford B. Hayes, but seen at the time as too much of a “crony” of the President, so his nomination was withdrawn, but resubmitted by President James A. Garfield in 1881, and confirmed by the closest margin in history, 24-23, but with Kavanaugh the second lowest ever vote 50-48. This was the only Supreme Court appointment of Garfield, who had only served four months, when he was shot and mortally wounded by an assassin, and died in September 1881.

The concern about fairness on the part of Brett Kavanaugh however was not the same as Stanley Matthews, who was the majority opinion author in a case involving discrimination against Chinese laundries and their owners in San Francisco, with the case being Yick Wo V. Hopkins, enforcing the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. This was a step forward at a difficult time, in the year 1886, although the government had passed into law the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

We could only hope for the kind of open mindedness on the part of Brett Kavanaugh, as occurred with Stanley Matthews’ authorship of this case, which gives him stature in Supreme Court history.

We have had Republican appointments in the past, who turned out to be surprises, including:

Earl Warren and William Brennan, appointed by Dwight D. Eisenhower

Harry Blackmun, appointed by Richard Nixon

John Paul Stevens, appointed by Gerald Ford

Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy, appointed by Ronald Reagan

David Souter, appointed by George H. W. Bush

It would be a miracle at this point if Brett Kavanaugh were to travel the same road.

In a nation becoming more minority over the next decades, and with young people and women and college educated people veering to the left, while the Supreme Court veers dramatically to the Far Right, the question is whether civil disorder is not in the making, creating a crisis atmosphere in the future decades, exactly what America’s enemies are hoping for.

Supreme Court Longevity An Issue, As Recent Justices Have Stayed Much Longer Than Average, Including Contested Nominee Clarence Thomas

In the midst of the controversy over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is the reality of how long he might serve.

There has been a trend whereby recent Supreme Court Justices serve much longer than historically traditional.

Right now, contested Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who was confirmed in 1991 despite strong testimony of Anita Hill, has served 27 years on the Court, and is already number 24 in longevity of service out of 113 members of the Court in American history. He will be number 17 in two years and number 13 in four years. In May 2028, he would break the all time record of 36 years and nearly 7 months of Justice William O. Douglas, and Thomas would be just about a month short of age 80, and can be seen as likely, if he stays healthy, to accomplish this goal.

If one just looks at the top fourth of all Supreme Court Justices in longevity, a total of 31 out of 113, all 24 years or more of service, we find the following recent Justices, all appointed since the 1950s, are on the list:

John Paul Stevens
William Brennan
William Rehnquist
Byron White
Anthony Kennedy
Antonin Scalia
Clarence Thomas
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Sandra Day O’Connor
Harry Blackmun
Stephen Breyer
Thurgood Marshall

In the earlier history of the Supreme Court, the average length of service was about 15 years by comparison.

That is why the idea, proposed by this author two days ago, that a future Supreme Court Justice be limited to an 18 year term, allows for turnover, and prevents dominance by an ideological minority for decades, as now is threatened by Brett Kavanaugh, or another extreme right wing appointment by Donald Trump.

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.

Chief Justice John Roberts To Become The New Balance On The Future Supreme Court?

Chief Justice John Roberts has been on the Court for 13 years now, and he is generally perceived as a conservative.

But he has surprised some conservatives, as when he kept ObamaCare (the Affordable Care Act) alive in 2012.

Also, Roberts has often stated by the doctrine of “Stare Decisis”–to stand by things decided”–although he has not been consistent on this over the years.

The odds of Roberts siding with the liberals on the Court for the image of the Court named after him as Chief Justice, is a thin measure of what kind of balance he might present on the future Supreme Court.

It seems likely that on balance, he will be “number 5”, in the middle, but that middle will be much farther to the Right than Anthony Kennedy or Sandra Day O’Connor represented.

But then again, Justices have surprised their Republican Presidents who appointed them, as with Earl Warren and William Brennan under Dwight D. Eisenhower; Harry Blackmun under Richard Nixon; John Paul Stevens under Gerald Ford; O’Connor and Kennedy under Ronald Reagan; and David Souter under George H. W. Bush.

The best estimate is that no one should count on John Roberts avoiding “his” Court from being regarded as the most right wing, conservative Court since the time of Warren G. Harding. Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover nine decades ago, before the Great Depression and New Deal began the transformation of constitutional law.

25 Years Of “RBG”, Ruth Bader Ginsburg In August, 85 Years Old And No Intention Of Retiring Before 2021 At Earliest!

Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, bless her heart, is finishing 25 years on the Court, and 38 years in total in the federal court system, having been appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980 to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, and then elevated to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

She has become a “rock star”, often called “the notorious RBG” in recent years, after the publication of a biography by a scholar in 2015.

She has survived bouts with colon cancer in 1999 and pancreatic cancer in 2009. and the death of her husband in 2010, days after their 56th wedding anniversary.

Through it all, she has stood up for the rights of minorities, women, gays and lesbians, the disabled, workers, consumers, environmentalists, and all other causes that fight against the enemies of civil rights, civil liberties, and social justice.

At age 85, she has had a stent put in her right coronary artery, and she has had a strict regimen of exercise for many years.

The question is whether Ginsburg can hang on and stay in office until 2021, when she would be 88 years old, and hopefully, a Democratic President could replace her after 28 years on the Court.

Ginsburg herself has said she plans to stay to the age of 90, the age that former Justice John Paul Stevens, now 98 and thriving, was when he left the Court in 2010.

Neil Gorsuch On Supreme Court A Fateful Turn To The Right, Unless He Surprises, As Other Republican Appointments In Past Have Done

Seven Republican appointments to the Supreme Court since 1953 turned out to be less conservative than expected, so the question that arises, as Neil Gorsuch, appointed by Donald Trump, becomes the 113th Supreme Court Justice in American history is, will Gorsuch follow that lead?

At this point, it seems highly unlikely, but there is no way to know how a person on the Court, who potentially could be there for 35 years, until 2052, will react as cases come before him. If he has an open mind, he could surprise us, as history records for appointees of Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush prove.

Chief Justice Earl Warren and Associate Justice William Brennan, appointments of Eisenhower, thought to be conservatives, turned out to be path breaking liberals on the Court.

Associate Justice Harry Blackmun, appointed by Nixon, proved to be the same, as did John Paul Stevens, appointed by Ford.

Associate Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy, chosen by Reagan, proved to be the swing vote,often siding with the liberal side of the Court, despite their generally conservative bent.

And David Souter, appointed by the first Bush, also proved to be a surprise on his vote much of the time.

So we will see over the next few years if Neil Gorsuch surprises.

The Changing Supreme Court In 2017: A Move To The Left That Will Last To The 2040s Or Beyond!

With the reality that Democrat Hillary Clinton has a clear lead for the Electoral College, the likelihood of a liberal majority Supreme Court seems more certain in 2017 and beyond.

News that Justice Clarence Thomas might retire at age 68 in the next year is encouraging in that regard, but even if he does not, as his wife has just contended, the likelihood is of FOUR appointments to the Court outside of Thomas, with two of them (Antonin Scalia dead and Anthony Kennedy retiring) being a movement to the left, making at the least a 6-3 Court by 2020. If Thomas also leaves, it would be a 7-2 Court, which would have a long range effect to the 2040s or beyond!

The Supreme Court has had a Republican and conservative majority for 44 years, since 1972, so it is about time to right the balance and make for a revival of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Court, which had an effect for 16 years, and continued to influence, if not control the Court, with the extended service of Justice William Brennan and Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Fortunately, Justice Harry Blackmun, Justice John Paul Stevens, and Justice David Souter, all appointed by Republican Presidents, often joined the few liberals left on the Court, and prevented the Court from going even further Right than it did in those 44 years.

But there is a desperate need for a tilt to the left on so many issues, so that is the most important reason for the election of Hillary Clinton to the White House in November!

Barack Obama’s Supreme Court Solution: Choose Former Republican Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor On One Year Term!

The Republican majority in the US Senate have made clear that they will not hold hearings, or in any fashion, consider the nomination of anyone selected by President Barack Obama to replace Associate Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, leaving the membership at eight for over 400 days, until a new President has been inaugurated and chosen a successor.

There is not much that can be done about this in reality, except that it should convince those who support the Democrats to come out in droves and insure that Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders is elected President.

It is, certainly, another issue in the campaign for the national elections, and since Republicans are split around Donald Trump, it gives an advantage to the Democrats, if only they can convince voters not to sit home, when either Hillary or Bernie lose the Presidential nomination to the other over the next few months.

But Barack Obama could put the Republicans in a box if he were to nominate a former member of the Supreme Court, chosen by Ronald Reagan, to return to her seat which she gave up ten years ago, not because of her own health, but because her husband had Alzeheimers, and she wanted to take care of him.

Were it not for that, O’Connor, with 25 years on the Court, could be close to the all time record of service of Justice William O. Douglas, who served 36 years from 1939-1975.  Her age is not an issue, as Justice John Paul Stevens was on the Court until age 90 and Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes a few months older but still age 90.

Yes, O’Connor will be 86, but she would be capable of serving for a year, and her record shows she would be a balancing influence, much like Justice Anthony Kennedy, not a certainty to vote with conservatives or with liberals on the Court.

This way, she would be able to help the Court do its work, serve her country, and leave after a new President made his or her appointment shortly after inauguration.

One can be sure that O’Connor would do her duty for her country, as she is highly honored already.  And Associate Justice Charles Evans Hughes came back to the Court as Chief Justice 14 years after leaving the Court in 1916.

So the best solution is for Obama to request that O’Connor agree to return, and it will put the Republicans in an awkward situation if they refuse to allow it!

Memory Of The Two Assassination Attempts Against Gerald Ford In September 1975

Today is the 41st anniversary of Gerald Ford becoming President, upon the resignation of Richard Nixon.

Ford’s historical reputation has risen as the years have gone by, with the major contribution he made, besides restoring faith and stability in the American Presidency, being his brilliant appointment of Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, who served on Court from 1975 to 2010, and lives on today in retirement at age 95.

But also part of the Ford story was the reality of his facing two assassination attempts by women within 17 days in September 1975—Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme on September 5, 1975; and then 17 days later by Sara Jane Moore on September 22, 1975.

The details of these two assassination attempts comprise Chapter 13 of my forthcoming book–“Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama”, Rowman Littlefield Publishers, to be released this coming Saturday, August 15.

A 30 percent discount offer from the publisher, Rowman Littlefield, is available on this website, using the code 4M15ATAP, and the book will ship after August 15.

The 15 Greatest Supreme Court Justices Since 1900

The Supreme Court has become more controversial than ever in recent years, and the decisions of the John Roberts Court in 2015 only added fuel to the fire, regarding who the greatest and worst Supreme Court Justices have been in American history.

We have had 112 Supreme Court Justices, and 17 Chief Justices, including 5 who served as Associate Justice as well.

58 Justices have served since 1900, with a few selected before that date but serving into the 20th century. This includes 9 Chief Justices, including four who had served as Associate Justices of the Supreme Court.

If one had to select the top 15 Supreme Court Justices since 1900, without ranking them specifically, but instead creating a list chronologically, they would be listed as follows:

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Charles Evans Hughes
Louis Brandeis
Harlan Fiske Stone
Benjamin Cardozo
Hugo Black
Felix Frankfurter
William O. Douglas
Earl Warren
William J. Brennan, Jr.
Thurgood Marshall
Harry Blackmun
John Paul Stevens
Sandra Day O’Connor
Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Note that 9 of these 15 Supreme Court Justices were appointed by Republicans—Holmes by Theodore Roosevelt; Hughes by William Howard Taft and then elevated to Chief Justice by Herbert Hoover; Stone by Calvin Coolidge; Cardozo by Herbert Hoover; Warren and Brennan by Dwight D. Eisenhower; Blackmun by Richard Nixon; Stevens by Gerald Ford; and O’Connor by Ronald Reagan.

Democratic Presidents chose the following: Brandeis by Woodrow Wilson; Black, Frankfurter and Douglas by Franklin D. Roosevelt; Stone elevated to Chief Justice by FDR; Marshall by Lyndon B. Johnson; and Ginsburg by Bill Clinton.