William O. Douglas

Justice John Paul Stevens, Longest Lived, And One Of Greatest Supreme Court Justices In American History, Dies At 99 Years Of Age

America has just lost one of its greatest Supreme Court Justices in all of American history, with the death yesterday of retired Justice John Paul Stevens at the age of 99.

Second longest serving, after his predecessor William O. Douglas, and second oldest at retirement at age 90, after Oliver Wendell Holmes, Stevens came on the Supreme Court as a conservative, and became more liberal by the year, and was the leader of the liberal wing of the Court in his last years, serving altogether 35 years from 1975 to 2010.

The only appointee of President Gerald Ford, Stevens was clearly the best appointment and best action taken by President Ford in his nearly two and a half years in the White House.

Stevens spoke up for gay rights, abortion rights, gun control, and against the death penalty, and against the Bush V. Gore and Citizens United Supreme Court decisions.

Stevens was a truly decent, compassionate man, a true jewel, a rare public servant who was on the proper side on so many decisions.

We will probably never see another Republican appointed Justice of the caliber of John Paul Stevens, but then again, we will probably not have a Republican President of the basic decency and moderation of Gerald Ford!

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.

Democratic Party Historical Accomplishments

The Democratic Party has been criticized for the fact that in its 188 year history, it was the party that promoted slavery, segregation, and lynching, being dominated for a long time by its ugly Southern membership.

This cannot be denied, but it is the Democratic Party which has also, in the last century of history, had many historical accomplishments.

Among these are:

First Catholic nominee for President–Alfred E. Smith 1928
First Catholic President elected–John F. Kennedy 1960
First Catholic Vice President elected–Joe Biden 2008
First Jewish nominee for Vice President–Joseph Lieberman 2000
First Jewish Presidential candidate as serious contender–Bernie Sanders 2016
First African American President–Barack Obama 2008
First Woman nominated for Vice President–Geraldine Ferraro 1984
First African American Presidential Contender–Shirley Chisholm 1972
First Woman nominee for President–Hillary Clinton 2016
First woman Secretary of State—Madeleine Albright under Bill Clinton
First Southerner elected President since 1848–Jimmy Carter 1976
Youngest elected President–John F. Kennedy 1960
President who gave us Social Security–Franklin D. Roosevelt 1935
President who gave us Medicare and Medicaid–Lyndon B. Johnson 1965-1966
One Term President who advanced Environmental Causes the most in history–Jimmy Carter 1977-1981
President who gave us ObamaCare–Barack Obama 2010
President who advanced Civil Rights—John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson 1960s
President to appoint first Jewish Supreme Court Justice—Woodrow Wilson 1916 (Louis Brandeis)
President to appoint first woman Jewish Supreme Court Justice—Bill Clinton 1993 (Ruth Bader Ginsburg)
President to appoint first African American Supreme Court Justice–Lyndon B. Johnson 1967 (Thurgood Marshall)
President to appoint first Hispanic-Latino Supreme Court Justice—Barack Obama 2009 (Sonia Sotomayor)
President who promoted Containment Foreign Policy with the Soviet Union—Harry Truman
President who promoted concept of international cooperation—Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt
First Woman Speaker Of The House of Representatives–Nancy Pelosi 2007
Most accomplished Congresses, Democratic controlled—-63rd and 64th (1913-1917) under Woodrow Wilson; 73rd and 74th (1933-1937) under Franklin D. Roosevelt; 89th Congress (1965-1967) under Lyndon B. Johnson; 111th Congress (2009-2011) under Barack Obama
Great Supreme Court Justices appointed by Democratic Presidents—Louis Brandeis 1916 by Woodrow Wilson; Hugo Black 1937 by Franklin D. Roosevelt; Felix Frankfurter 1939 by Franklin D. Roosevelt; William O. Douglas 1939 by Franklin D. Roosevelt; Thurgood Marshall 1967 by Lyndon B. Johnson; Ruth Bader Ginsburg 1993 by Bill Clinton; Stephen Breyer 1994 by Bill Clinton

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!

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.

A Great Moment In American History 39 Years Ago Today As The Rule Of Law Triumphed, And Sanity Returned With Gerald Ford Becoming President!

39 years ago today, President Richard Nixon resigned from office, as the rule of law triumphed, and America returned to sanity with the the inauguration of Gerald Ford as our 38th President.

Nixon might have accomplished a great deal in his five and a half years in the White House, but he represented the greatest threat to our government stability since the Civil War, as he abused power, showed definite signs of mental illness, and had proved on the Watergate tapes that he had obstructed justice and broken the law, and had expressed what we did not know clearly at the time, overt racism and anti semitism!

The Constitution worked, as the Congress and the Supreme Court intervened and saved America from a President out of control, and we were blessed with a man who replaced him, who we now realize was the right person to take the helm at a time when we desperately needed a person of conscience, decency, and principles.

We found that man in Gerald Ford, who never had ambitions to be President, but came along as an acceptable choice under the 25th Amendment, which had only been added to the Constitution six years earlier, in 1967. We were saved from a fate worse than Nixon, the crooked, unqualified, and demagogic Spiro Agnew, who scared the living daylights out of many decent, principled Americans.

Ford came into the Presidency, moved us past the nightmare of Richard Nixon by pardoning him, so that the nation could look to the future, and deal with the many problems it faced at that time in the mid 1970s…He suffered defeat for a full term in 1976 by a small margin, certainly caused by that controversial pardon. But he steadied the ship of state, and gained respect for his handling of a terrorist incident, the Mayaguez Affair with the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia; gave us one of the greatest recent Supreme Court Justices, John Paul Stevens, who served 35 years, longer than any Justice except William O. Douglas; graced us with his wonderful wife, Betty Ford, who set a modern standard for First Ladies to follow, as the most active since Eleanor Roosevelt; and held off the right wing tilt of the Republican Party for four years, by stopping Ronald Reagan’s attempt to turn the party to the Right. He also gave us one of our best and most activist Vice Presidents, Nelson Rockefeller, and bravely survived two assassination attempts within 17 days of each other in September 1975. Ford also showed us how a Republican President could be a responsible, mainstream conservative.

Gerald Ford restored the dignity and status of the Presidency at a time when it desperately needed a boost, and graced our nation for a longer life than any President of the United States.

Having visited the Gerald Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, last month brought this author and blogger to a greater understanding and appreciation of the contributions of Gerald and Betty Ford. While he served the shortest term of a President who did not die in office, it was a significant 895 days, and we owe him a debt of gratitude for his service in the Presidency, as well as his 25 years in the House of Representatives.

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.

The Supreme Court: The MOST Crucial Issue In The Presidential Election Of 2012!

Plenty of attention is being paid to economic and domestic policy in the Presidential campaign of 2012.

Also, now with the Middle East crisis that erupted this week, foreign policy is, suddenly, being given tremendous emphasis.

It is right that attention is being paid to both areas of national policy, as they really matter!

But an area which still is NOT being focused on adequately, if in fact at all, is the effect of the election on constitutional matters, which are determined primarily by the Supreme Court of the United States, along with the federal circuit courts.

First, the circuit courts consistently have vacancies, even in a one term Presidency, which can have a dramatic effect on constitutional law. Also, it must be remembered that the tradition has been to appoint Supreme Court Justices from this level of the judiciary, although that was certainly not the norm in the long history of the Supreme Court.

Ultimately, however, it is the Supreme Court which is the final arbiter of the Constitution, as the nine members of the Court, once they have made a determination, rule the day, unless a constitutional amendment can be passed to overrule a Supreme Court decision, or the members of the Court, through changes of personnel, decide to revisit areas of controversy already decided by an earlier Court.

After a decade of no changes on the Court, from 1995 to 2005, suddenly, in a period of five years, from 2005-2010, there were four changes on the Court–Chief Justice John Roberts in 2005 and Associate Justice Samuel Alito in 2006 under President George W. Bush; and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 and Associate Justice Elena Kagan in 2010 under President Barack Obama.

Now in 2012, there are four Justices in their 70s, who are seen as possible or likely retirees from the Court over the next four years—Associate Justice Antonin Scalia (76), appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986; Associate Justice Anothony Kennedy (76), appointed by Reagan in 1988; Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg (79), appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993; and Associate Justice Stephen Breyer (73), appointed by Clinton in 1994.

By the end of the next term, if none of these four Justices left the Court, they would range in age from 77 to 83!

It seems certain that one or more will retire, or unfortunately, die, in the next four years, and who is appointing their successors, is all important for the future of constitutional law!

If Obama makes one to four appointments, it will, at the least, keep the present balance, slightly toward the conservative side, but if Mitt Romney makes the choices, it could make the Court more conservative, more to the right, than it has been since at least the 1920s, if not the Gilded Age of the late 19th century!

This is NOT a minor matter, considering the areas of criminal justice, affirmative action, abortion, gay rights, and the constitutionality of laws passed under the New Deal of the 1930s and the Great Society of the 1960s, and recent actions on health care, campaign fund raising, and many other touchy, controversial areas of policy, and of civil rights and civil liberties!

The Court could turn back a century of political, social and economic reforms, if it turns in the direction of the far Right, a danger with Mitt Romney in office!

We can expect that by 2020, if not 2016, all of the members of the Court will be those appointed in the previous 15 years, with the possible exception of Associate Justice Clarence Thomas (64), appointed by President George H. W. Bush in 1991, and stating he would not retire or leave the Supreme Court until he breaks the all time record of Associate Justice William O. Douglas, appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939, and serving 36 years on the Court under seven Presidents, until he left in 1975!

So this issue needs to be addressed in the Presidential debates in October, as it is an issue for voters to consider, and to recognize its significance!

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!

The Republican Attack On The Constitution: A Threat To American Democracy!

The Republican Party loves to assert that the Democrats, and progressives in particular, are attacking the Constitution, and that they are the experts on the Constitution.

So therefore, in this Presidential primary season, and in the party membership in Congress, there are statements constantly attacking the court system, anytime that a federal judge or court issues a decision against the conservative view of the Constitution. There are condemnations and calls to change the court system on a regular basis.

One would think that the Democrats and their progressive friends have dominated the courts in recent decades, which, of course, is the exact opposite of the truth!

One forgets that from 1969-2011, there have been only 15 years of Democratic control of the Presidency, as compared to 28 years of Republican control.

The vast majority of federal judges have been Republican appointments, as a result, and Republican Presidents have made a total of 13 Supreme Court appointments over those years, and Democrats have made only 4, two by Bill Clinton and two by Barack Obama!

But now,. Newt Gingrich calls for judges to be required to testify before partisan Congressional committees, a violation of the separation of powers, and a danger to an independent judiciary!

What it comes down to is that Newt Gingrich and all of the Republican opponents, with maybe the exception of Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, wish to create a court system that would move away from the path breaking changes that the Supreme Court brought about during the years of the Warren Court, Burger Court, and Rehnquist Court including:

Brown V. Board Of Education
Miranda V Arizona
Roe V Wade
University Of California V. Bakke
Lawrence V Texas

As it is, there are threats presented by the Republican growth of dominance on the federal courts to all of these issues–racial integration, rights of criminal suspects, abortion rights, affirmative action, and gay rights.

The Republicans will not be contented until there are reversals on all of these issues, and a return to the “good old days”, when minorities “knew their place”; police had unlimited rights over those they questioned or arrested; women had no control over their reproductive rights; minorities and women had disadvantages, as compared to white males, on educational and job opportunities; and gays were forced to remain “in the closet” and face open discrimination and hate without recourse!

So when the Republicans claim to understand what the Founding Fathers meant at the Constitutional Convention, they are forgetting that those esteemed leaders put into the Constitution the “Elastic Clause” to allow for expansion of the Constitution beyond the original document, in order to make the Constitution a “living document” adaptable to changing times.

The real threat is not what the federal courts have done in the past sixty years! It is the attempt of conservatives and the Republican Party to negate the great progress brought about the Supreme Court and lower courts in the past sixty years, and revert back to the years after World War II, when all of these great changes started slowly to evolve through courageous judges and Supreme Court Justices, including Earl Warren, William Brennan, Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O’Connor, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.