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August 24, 2015

Might any Prez candidate pledge to put a criminal defense attorney on the Supreme Court?

Article-2228924-15CDB3E3000005DC-474_634x424The question in the title of this post is prompted by this CBS News dispatch from the presidential campaign trail headlined "Chris Christie makes a Supreme Court promise." Here are excerpts from the piece:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday pledged that if elected president, his first Supreme Court nominee would not be a Harvard Law or Yale Law School graduate.  "I think you can be pretty sure of that fact," he promised radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt.

In an interview with Hewitt, Christie argued that Americans were tired of the "education establishment" and implied that success was not limited to those who hold an Ivy League education.  Five of the current Supreme Court justices are Harvard Law graduates, while three are Yale graduates.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg received her law degree from Columbia Law School.

The governor mentioned that his ideal U.S. Supreme Court appointees would come from various backgrounds and would know that their rulings affect "real people's" lives every day.  "You need folks who have real life experiences, who have had real struggles, and who have made a difference in their communities in ways that are different than just going to an Ivy League school."

My first reaction to these comments was to find remarkable how similar candidate Christie's comments about selecting judges are to Prez Obama's (often criticized) comments about the importance of judges having "a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people" and having "that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles."

Upon second thought, though, I came to realize that what is really lacking on the Supreme Court are jurists with experience as criminal defense attorneys.  Most notably, the last four appointed Supreme Court Justices all had experience as prosecutors and/or members of the US Department of Justice.  (In reverse order, Justice Kagan has been US Solicitor General, Justice Sotomayor had been a NY state prosecutor, Justice Alito had been a US Attorney for New Jersey, and Chief Justice Roberts had been a senior official in the Justice Department.)  

Of course, despite their Ivy League degrees and some similar resume lines, I think all the current Justices, thanks in part to significant time in a variety of professional roles other than just as a government lawyer, did come onto the Court with some diverse "real life experiences" and "real struggles."  Still, I think candidate Christie is making a reasonable pith for greater educational (and personal and professional?) diversity on the Supreme Court.  And especially now that criminal justice reform is a hot-topic on the campaign trail, it is now at least possible to imagine that a future President would seriously consider nominating for the Supreme Court somebody with a background in criminal defense.

August 24, 2015 at 09:30 AM | Permalink


I can't imagine a criminal defense attorney making it through the modern confirmation process.

Posted by: Bryan Gates | Aug 24, 2015 10:49:14 AM

Thurgood Marshall made it , but it would be a struggle for an R or D criminal defense lawyer to be confirmed •

Posted by: Docile Jim Brady in Oregon | Aug 24, 2015 12:05:48 PM

Impressive to get more with defense specialties on the lower courts.

These days being a director of an advocacy group with some defense work while one's professional life involved service as a prosecutor (Sotomayor) is what passes as being pro-defense minded.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 24, 2015 12:33:55 PM

How about a non-lawyer? How about a mentally retarded, alcoholic dementia, wine besotted bum puking in the gutter for an upgrade in the common sense of decisions and clarity of writing? The nominees have all been waking nightmares for this lawyer besieged and betrayed nation.

How about moving the Supreme Court to Wichita, Kansas, the middle of the continental US? just away from that homosexual dominated, Sodom and Gomorrah of rent seeking in Washington DC. It is gayer than San Francisco if you count the whites living there.

How about making the number of Justices an even number to end its idiotic and disruptive 5-4 decision. A tie lets the lower court decision stand. The lower court decision was likely based on a prior Supreme Court decision, and these fools are just playing like two year olds throwing things around a room.

If it going to make the laws, and not just apply the laws, have 500 seats, make it a legislature.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 24, 2015 12:39:42 PM

How about impeaching them for their decisions, not some trivial, idiotic collateral corruption? Those decisions are the real crimes of these elite members of the hierarchy of the criminal cult enterprise that is the lawyer profession today.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 24, 2015 12:43:53 PM

I think the only real possibility would be someone who had previously survived the confirmation process. Someone, for example, like Judge Jane Kelly of the Eighth Circuit. She was a longtime federal public defender before going on the bench in 2013. It didn't hurt that she had Senator Grassley on her side. Unfortunately for Governor Christie, she has a Harvard JD.

Posted by: Person | Aug 24, 2015 2:16:47 PM

All Ivy League law degrees should be disqualification per se. If all lawyers are dumbasses, they are the biggest dumbasses of all. Look at this all Ivy Supreme Court. It is a disgrace of stupidity. They are always wrong. They're idiots. Worse, they believe themselves to be smarter than the elected representatives of the states and of the federal government. They are not. They are stupider, and far stupider.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 24, 2015 3:12:55 PM

Hugo Black. Defended persons in jury trials accused of crimes. No one on the court has done that. I do not think that any of the present Harvard and Yale and Columbia 9 tried a civil jury trial as a lawyer in court. When you hear them on CSPAN at the oral arguments you hear six with accents of "turdy turd and a turd" or what we call Yorkie accents. All of them think that their itShay does not stink.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Aug 24, 2015 4:51:53 PM

@Supremacy Claus" This was the first time I laughed at anyone's comments. They were perfect!

I really don't think that we will see a defence lawyer on the SC. For one, Christy will not be president, and two, it would make too damn much common sense to stock the High Court with a Justice that would make decisions that were "thought out" before offering his/her opinion.

Posted by: Book38 | Aug 24, 2015 5:37:21 PM

Remember when the Senate wouldn't confirm Obama's nominee to head the DOJ's Civil Rights Division because he represented a cop killer? http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/senate-rejects-obamas-nominee-civil-rights

So many senators fail to understand the sixth amendment and can't understand why individuals would represent individuals who have committed such henious crimes. I fear a criminal defense attorney will unfairly have difficulty in the confirmation process.

Posted by: Michael Abromowitz | Aug 24, 2015 7:54:15 PM

Gee, how about putting on a judge whom will rule on the originality of the Constitution, not specific to criminal law? What a novel concept... (rolls eyes).

I am sick and tired about the court becoming a defacto dictator's block, interpreting the Constitution tot he flavor of the day. Sentencing is a state's perogative, not a federal government's nanny state job.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Aug 25, 2015 12:19:58 AM

"These days being a director of an advocacy group with some defense work while one's professional life involved service as a prosecutor (Sotomayor) is what passes as being pro-defense minded."

I suspect most defense attorneys are very happy with the "wise [sic] Latina['s]" elevation to SCOTUS. Her laugh out loud fixation on the 6.5 hours at the Pinholster oral argument or the nonsense speedy trial dissent displays a pro-defense mindset.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 25, 2015 9:34:54 AM

"the originality of the Constitution"

Whatever that is. Is that some nod to originalism which has more flavors now than Baskin Robbins? This would go with the "flavor of the day," which is how it is going to be applied. Individuals apply the Constitution and their will be influenced by the current understanding of the law. If we want Zombie Taft to interpret the law via the flavor of yesteryear, we might have to do that "Walking Dead" show's path.

"sentencing is a state's prerogative"

When federal courts aren't sentencing ... and then it has to be done following the law of the land, which state judges have to swear/affirm allegiance to.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 25, 2015 10:16:33 AM

Being from Jersey, Christie will surely want to appoint a JD from Princeton.

Posted by: Allen | Aug 26, 2015 12:51:35 AM

Allen, Princeton does not have a law school. The last three justices (Justice Alito, Justice Sotomayor, and Justice Kagan) have undergraduate degrees from Princeton, so appointing another alum from Princeton would not be a significant change from the current court.

Posted by: tmm | Aug 26, 2015 2:15:45 PM

Interesting note, besides Ivy JDs, the current batch has five Ivy (3 Princeton, 1 Harvard, and 1 Cornell), two Stanford, and two Jesuit undergrad degrees (along with two Oxford degrees and one London School of Economics degree).

Posted by: tmm | Aug 26, 2015 2:21:49 PM

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