Richard M. Nixon: Politician, President, Administrator

By Leon Friedman; William F. Levantrosser | Go to book overview

Discussant: James McClellan

Being the only conservative Republican here, I shall give a somewhat different perspective to these proceedings. I will discuss the judicial selection process as it applies not only to the Nixon Administration, but also to the current administration. I commend the author for his paper. It is largely, though not entirely, free of bias and is pretty much a straightforward, accurate account of what took place under the presidency of Richard Nixon. In fact, my own view is that he probably gives the Nixon Administration too high a rating; and he's much too kind to President Nixon with regard to his judicial appointments.

When we examine the individuals who were appointed to the Supreme Court or who were nominated by President Nixon, it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that we're dealing with a number of mental dwarfs. There are no first-rate minds in the group--with the exception of Rehnquist, who was the most qualified of all those considered in that he was first in his law class at Stanford and had clerked with a member of the Supreme Court. He came to the Court with the best credentials.

The rest of these folks are what we might call "mainstream legal establishment." These are classic ABA-type appointments. All of them have good ratings from the American Bar Association; and all of them conformed at the time-- and this is still their standard today--to the unwritten ABA rule that corporate experience and, most especially, litigation experiences are prerequisites to a federal judgeship. These are two aspects of legal practice that have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on one's qualifications for a position on the Supreme Court, where they're dealing largely with constitutional issues. None of these individuals here had any prior background in the field of constitutional law, with the exception of Rehnquist. Chief Justice Burger lobbied heavily for his position; he was able to ingratiate himself with President Nixon personally. Warren Burger's chief attribute was that he looked like a chief justice. In the opinion of many he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. Certainly he will not go down in history as one of our great chief justices. In fact, I think if we were to rate the Nixon Presidency on the quality of Nixon's Supreme Court appointments, Nixon would rank pretty low.

Haynsworth and Carswell, we must remember, were part of the Southern Strategy. What was the Southern Strategy? The Southern Strategy was to build up the Republican party in the South and to make inroads into the judicial stronghold of the Democratic party. The key here was Strom Thurmond. Haynsworth was Thurmond's candidate. Haynsworth, in fact, was from the state of South Carolina. We can take notice that, even today, there is a candidate for the Supreme Court from South Carolina as we consider the nomination of Judge Kennedy. He is on the short list, and his name is Judge Wilkins. He's on the Fourth Circuit. Strom Thurmond has an abiding interest in getting southerners

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