An Ex-Governor for the Court?

June 06, 1993

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Education Secretary Richard Riley are the latest possibilities for the Supreme Court. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that "officials" say they are "among a small group of candidates that the president )) is considering to succeed retiring Justice [Byron] White." Lyle Denniston of The Sun reported last month that "sources" said Richmond attorney Gerald Baliles was under consideration.

We like one thing about all three. They're former governors. We continue to believe this court needs a justice who is an ex-politician more than it needs one who is an ex-judge (several lower court judges are said to be the leading contenders for the White vacancy). Only Justice Sandra Day O'Connor of the present court has ever been elected to an office.

Mr. Babbitt was elected governor of Arizona twice, ran for president in 1988 and then joined the Clinton cabinet this year. Mr. Riley was elected governor of South Carolina twice. Mr. Baliles was elected governor of Virginia once (his state limits governors to one consecutive term). Mr. Babbitt is "neo-liberal," which is a fancy way of saying "moderate Democrat." Messrs. Riley and Baliles are a little to the right of him.

President Clinton is said to be determined to appoint a centrist to the Supreme Court, to use the nomination to re-establish his credentials as a moderate Democrat. We assume that's why the trial balloon we "floated" two months ago for liberals Sen. Paul vTC Sarbanes and Mayor Kurt Schmoke behaved as it were made of lead. Any of the three ex-governors (who are also Supreme Court caliber lawyers) would serve Mr. Clinton's centrist course.

The reason we believe the Supreme Court needs a former practicing politician is that as a collegial body the more perspectives the better. Men and women who have written laws or executed them look at laws in a slightly different way than people who have only interpreted them. We have nothing against the several U.S. Court of Appeals judges also said to be under consideration -- but this Supreme Court already has six former Court of Appeals judges on it.

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