Regrets? They’ve had a few

Published 2:16 pm Friday, October 21, 2011

It’s Supremes week in Washington and I don’t mean the Motown group once led by Diana Ross.

The Supreme Court is back in session and the nine justices will consider a number of polarizing and controversial issues, not the least of which will likely be the constitutionality of “Obamacare” and its mandate that every citizen purchase health insurance.

Just in time for their reconvening is a fascinating new book by Texas writer William T. Harper (for which I have supplied a blurb). It’s called “Second Thoughts: Presidential Regrets with their Supreme Court Nominations.”

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We tend to think of the justices as members of an elite club, smarter than any other legal mind and gifted with insight beyond the rest of us mere mortals. But as Harper writes, that has often not been the opinion of the presidents who nominated them, or the opinion of some of the justices toward the presidents who placed them on the bench.

Harper reveals that there is more going on under those long black robes than meets the eye. Such as: a justice who was having illicit sex in his judicial chambers; another was thrown twice into debtors prison; one received a lifetime membership in the Ku Klux Klan; another said the president who nominated him should die; still another called his president “a crippled son-of-a-b—h”; and one justice called a colleague “partially deranged.”

It gets worse. Among presidents who regretted their choices: One referred to his choice as a “dumb son-of-a-b—h”; another called the justice he nominated “the biggest damn fool thing I ever did”; still another said his nominee had “less backbone than a banana”; and one referred to his four court nominees, along with the other five members of the Court as “b—–ds.”

Most of those criticized by the presidents who nominated them incurred their wrath by voting differently from what had been expected. In recent years, Republicans Ronald Reagan (Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy), George H.W. Bush (David Souter) and Richard Nixon (Harry Blackmun and Lewis Powell Jr.) sold their nominees as conservatives or “strict constructions,” but they ended up mostly voting liberal. Nixon suffered the double indignity of seeing all three of his nominees vote against him in the Watergate tapes affair, which led to his resignation. Two of his nominees were rejected by the Senate.

Harper’s book reminds us that even members of the Supreme Court are fallible and subject to the same temptations of lust, greed and hubris as any other human. “There were nominees and even members of the court,” writes Harper, “who spent time in debtors prison, were indicted for murder, were locked up in an insane asylum, and more.”

George Washington was not exempt from having problems with the Supreme Court. As our first president, he was uniquely able to name every justice. And yet the Senate rejected his selection of John Rutledge to be chief justice; William Cushing declined to serve as chief because of ill health; James Wilson landed in debtors prison because of “nefarious financial dealings”; Robert Harrison insulted the father of our country by refusing to serve at all; William Paterson was nominated, withdrew and then was re-nominated; and Samuel Chase was impeached.

Even Washington must have had “second thoughts” about some of these men.

Scoundrels and schemers populate the history of the Supreme Court, along with intrigue, back-stabbing and political one-upsmanship. It reads like a political novel, but it is fact.

“Second Thoughts” is self-published, which is too bad because it ought to be more widely distributed. For those who want to learn more about the Supreme Court and fill in some gaps in their knowledge of American history, the book is available on Amazon, or through the author’s email address:

You won’t be disappointed.

(Direct all MAIL for Cal Thomas to: Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, N.Y. 14207. Readers may also e-mail Cal Thomas at