Is Justice Antonin Scalia Running for President?

By Wagner, David | Insight on the News, February 24, 1997 | Go to article overview
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Is Justice Antonin Scalia Running for President?


Wagner, David, Insight on the News


It sounds like the prominent Republicans who are not fixing to run for president in 2000 could meet in a phone booth. Rumor already has given us a hypothetical lineup consisting of Alexander, Armey, Bennett, Buchanan, Bush (George W.), Dole (Elizabeth), Engler, Forbes, Frist Gramm, Kemp, Lott, Lugar, McCain Powell, Quayle, Thompson and Whitman. For conservatives, several of these possible choices are acceptable, but none of them makes the activists pump the air and shout, "Yes! "

Perhaps that is why the effect was electrifying when, about two months ago, a new name was added to the list: Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.

The Scalia boomlet started with an article by Cardozo Law School Professor John O. McGinnis in the Dec. 9, 1995 issue of National Review, citing Scalia's eloquence and wisdom both in economic and social conservatism. Thomas Sowell also raised the Scalia possibility in his syndicated column.

"I've heard from a lot of people since that article," McGinnis told Insight. "There are people who were involved in recent Republican administrations who are now figuring out how to make a Scalia candidacy happen. They will be meeting soon to see if money can be raised for a `Draft Scalia' effort."

"It testifies to the frustration with the current crop of potential candidates," notes Marshall Whittman of the Heritage Foundation. "Scalia can speak to both economic and social issues, and he takes a deep and broad view of our cultural crisis," Whittman says.

He adds, "I've got a slogan for a Scalia campaign. `Tired of being ruled by judges? Elect one!"'

"It could be," says a former Scalia clerk, "that Scalia looks at the recent presidents and says heck, I could do a better job than those guys! And whether he does it or not, it's good to have it talked about. It will help his influence within the court for his colleagues to see that he has a serious following."

While not remotely encouraging speculation about electoral politics -- he declined to return a call seeking his comments for this article -- Scalia is reaching for forums beyond his trademark angry dissents for expressing his views. He has just published a book (A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law) in which he expounds his theory of judging. This is followed by mostly critical comments by several law professors, followed by a response from Scalia. It is far from the typical pop-autobiography that candidates churn out; on the other hand, like Barry Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative, it may help popularize Scalia's views because it showcases his clarity of thought and his skepticism about elites.

"The argument will be made that if he couldn't build a lasting coalition within the court, how can he put together a political coalition?" notes a former Scalia clerk, alluding to the way the sometimes-abrasive associate justice often has been isolated in his angry dissents. "The answer is that communicating to the American people is a different thing from communicating with a small, select group of people who are obsessed with what the law schools, the cocktail-party set and the New York Times think about them."

The key to avoiding the premature sacrifice of Scalia's court seat, says McGinnis, is a Draft Scalia committee operating separately from the justice himself. In this scenario, an independent exploratory committee would do the preliminary fund-raising; the justice need not resign from the court until late autumn 1999. With his national stature, McGinnis believes, six weeks of personal campaigning should suffice to make him a top player in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.

Since potential Scalia supporters will not want Bill Clinton to appoint his replacement, the Scalia scenario depends on a Republican Senate willing to refuse to confirm any replacement until after the next presidential inauguration. The precedent is there.

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