This summer, President Bush had the chance to do something that few of his predecessors ever had the chance to do- appoint a new Supreme Court Justice, a lifetime position that could lead to many changes in how laws are interpreted in the United States.
On July 1, Sandra Day O’ Connor, a moderate who was one of the eight associate justices on the Supreme Court, gave Bush the rare responsibility to nominate a new justice by announcing her retirement after twenty-four years on the Supreme Court.
President Bush nominated Judge John Roberts as her successor about eighteen days after the announcement.
Roberts, who holds political views that are somewhat more conservative than that of O’ Connor, served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 2003.
It is certainly strange that Bush chose to nominate someone as relatively inexperienced as Roberts to replace Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who passed away on September 3, over the more experienced associate justices already on the Supreme Court.
According to the New York Times, President Bush praised his nominee for the Seventeenth Supreme Court Justice as having “natural gifts as a leader.” Roberts did gain some leadership experience through his position as a partner in his private firm and won quite a number of cases before the Supreme Court.
As a law clerk for William Rehnquist from 1980 to 1981, a time period in which Rehnquist was an associate Justice under Chief Justice Warren Burger, John Roberts learned vital lessons regarding how not to be a Chief Justice. According to the New York Times, Rehnquist encouraged Roberts and his other law clerks to make fun of Burger’s pomposity and his need for self-importance. Because of his discontent with the nature of the Burger Supreme Court, Rehnquist made significant changes to the way he led the Court, much of which rubbed off on Judge Roberts.
Despite this, Roberts never actually experienced first hand the daily procedures and activities that he would have to look forward to as Chief Justice of the highest federal court in the United States.
In addition to Roberts, Bush was considering two other judges to fill the position of Chief Justice, both of which are currently associate justices: Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.
Thomas, who was nominated by George H. W. Bush and served on the Supreme Court since 1991, would have been a better choice if Bush insisted on choosing a conservative. His experience on the Supreme Court alone would have made Thomas a more than suitable nominee.
Scalia, another suitable choice for Supreme Court Chief Justice, was appointed by President Reagan in 1986, giving him nineteen years of experience on the Supreme Court.
While both Scalia and Thomas seem to be certainly more accomplished and experienced than Roberts, Anthony Kennedy provides the best choice, as he would prove to be a moderate that would unite the country and the court.
Kennedy, a seventeen year veteran Supreme Court Justice, was also appointed by Reagan. He would have been a perfect choice if Bush wanted to unite our politically divided nation.