Mr. Justice Breyer

May 14, 1994

There he is, Mr. Justice Breyer. Let's hear it for him. And how about a hand for the First Runner-Up, Richard Arnold? And don't forget Mr. Congeniality, Bruce Babbitt!

President Clinton says that since he once taught constitutional law, he is well prepared to select a Supreme Court justice. But he has now twice turned the process into something like a Miss America pageant, with the contestants being looked over and graded in various categories in public for days on end, after he and his advisers had had many weeks to work on it. All the delays, leaks, rescheduled announcements and hand-wringing excuses denigrate the process and demean the president and those under consideration.

So much for the process. Now for the result. In comments here on the rumored nomination of George Mitchell, we praised his legislative credentials as something the present court badly needs. It is composed of seven former federal judges and one former state judge, only one of whom ever served in a legislative body (Sandra Day O'Connor, in the Arizona state senate). Since the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of what the laws Congress writes mean, legislative experience can be very helpful.

We would have preferred to see President Clinton not nominate another federal appeals judge. But if he had to, he at least chose a very good one yesterday. Before Stephen Breyer became chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, he served as assistant prosecutor in the Watergate investigation and chief counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Though a liberal protege of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, his admirers include such conservatives as Sens. Strom Thurmond, Orrin Hatch and Bob Dole.

Judge Breyer clerked for one of the most liberal justices of recent decades, Arthur Goldberg. He has written extensively in learned legal journals. As a staff member for Senator Kennedy, he had the next closest thing to being a senator, in terms of having legislative experience. Service in the executive branch is valuable, too: Judge Breyer worked in the anti-trust division of the Justice Department, thus gaining expertise in that important subject.

His professional and educational qualifications are also first-rate. graduated from Stanford, went to Oxford and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.

President Clinton deserves credit for this nomination for another reason. There is no personal political advantage in such a choice. Senator Kennedy was already a close ally, and if any state other than Arkansas is "safe" for Democrat Clinton, it is Massachusetts. Instead, he opted for someone he perceives to be a judicial "consensus-builder," someone who can solidify the newly emerging moderate-to-liberal majority on the Supreme Court. That would be a justice worth waiting for.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.