Clinton weighed Sarbanes for Supreme Court

May 17, 1994|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Justice Sarbanes? Senator Schmoke?

In the end, it never happened. But last week, for a moment at least, President Clinton pondered aloud the idea of putting Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes on the Supreme Court and seeing Maryland's seat in the Senate go to Mr. Clinton's old chum, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke of Baltimore.

White House officials confirmed yesterday that roughly an hour and a half before phoning Judge Stephen G. Breyer to inform him that he was being nominated for the high court, Mr. Clinton blurted out Mr. Sarbanes' name as a possible alternative choice for the nomination.

The president also mused about the possibility that Baltimore's mayor could then be appointed to the Senate to fill Mr. Sarbanes' seat.

Stunned officials said little, according to news reports, except for White House counsel Lloyd N. Cutler, who urged the president to get back on track, which he quickly did.

The first public mention of Mr. Sarbanes as a potential candidate came April 16 on the "The McLaughlin Group," a political talk show, when Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page threw out the name of the Maryland Democrat, adding, "I know that sounds a little far-fetched, but remember you heard it here first."

"And maybe last," quipped fellow panelist Eleanor Clift of Newsweek.

On Capitol Hill, Mr. Sarbanes' own reaction to the talk -- there actually wasn't that much of it -- was pretty cool. "Media speculation," he sniffed when first asked about it by The Sun.

But Mr. Sarbanes knew something most people didn't -- he had not been "vetted" by the Clinton administration search team. "He was never even contacted," said a Sarbanes aide. "We received no phone calls, let alone a request to fill out forms."

As for filling a vacant Sarbanes seat, that duty would have fallen, by state law, to Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- who might well have considered putting himself in the Senate to round out his career in government. Or perhaps, as has been suggested, he would have chosen Mr. Schmoke, in order to open the way for Mr. Schaefer's own return to City Hall.

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