Supreme Court Appointments: Judge Bork and the Politicization of Senate Confirmations

By Norman Vieira; Leonard Gross | Go to book overview
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19
JUDGE SOUTER: A STEALTH NOMINEE

The Bork and Kennedy hearings showed that even when the Senate seems to be focused on judicial ideology, one Supreme Court nominee may be confirmed while another with a similar judicial philosophy is denied confirmation. The Senate's exhaustion with the protracted Bork proceedings, combined with Kennedy's pleasant and noncombative style, made the Kennedy confirmation almost inevitable, despite the nominee's clear conservative record on the bench. But if it is apparent that one way for the president to secure confirmation of his judicial nominees is to wear down the opposition, this is certainly not the only way. When President Bush was given his first opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court justice, he took the relatively nonconfrontational course of nominating a judge with almost no record of public pronouncements on major constitutional issues. The candidate was soon viewed as a judicial conservative who would be reluctant to "legislate from the bench," as the president put it, but who had left almost no tracks and would not be an easy target for Senate liberals.

On Friday, July 20, 1990, William Brennan announced his retirement as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. Of course, the announcement immediately triggered speculation as to who would be Brennan's successor. President Bush moved quickly to short-circuit efforts by various activists to advance the prospects of their favorite candidates.

The Bush administration had inherited a list of more than fifty potential Supreme Court nominees from the files of the Reagan White House. This list had been pared down to fewer than twenty names by the time that Justice Brennan announced his retirement. Less than twenty-four

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