iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Paul Abrams

Paul Abrams

Posted: April 9, 2010 01:14 PM

Sheldon Whitehouse and 4 Other Superb "Out of the Box" Suggestions to Replace Justice Stevens

What's Your Reaction:

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has the sharpest mind in the Senate. He is a former attorney general. His sharp mind, rhetorical skills, keen understanding of how government works, and his political experience suggest he would be a strong advocate, persuasive thinker, consensus builder, and, when in the minority, a cogent dissenter. Advocates before the Court would have to triple their preparation to meet his withering questioning. The Court, the standard of advocacy, and the entire country would benefit.

Yes, Glenn Beck would likely conjure a grand conspiracy in sending someone named "Whitehouse" to the Supreme Court, but as a sitting Senator it would be difficult for Republicans to filibuster his nomination recognizing he would be among them for a long time. Moreover, Republicans know, by serving with him, that their attempts to posture and to lie would result in their undressing on national television. A Democrat, or a Lincoln Chafee, would replace him. He could do far more benefit as 1 of 9 on the Supreme Court than 1 of 100 in the Senate.

Jonathan Turley, Professor of Constitutional Law at George Washington University Law School, is young, bright, and has earned the praise and enmity of both Republicans and Democrats -- he considered Bill Clinton's perjury ample grounds for impeachment, and he considers torture illegal, period. The only certainty about a 'Mr. Justice Turley" is that he would place the rule of law on the highest pedestal. The power of that consistent moral principle might enable him to change the rather boring predictability of the Court's line-up. His confirmation hearing would be lively, interesting, educational -- and, like Whitehouse's, would not suffer foolishness gladly. As with Whitehouse, Republicans trying to score political points would wish they had never showed up that day.

Christine Gregoire is a second-term Governor of Washington State, and its former attorney general. She has had the most successful legislative sessions in our State's history, and was a highly-regarded Attorney General. She has been able to forge consensus in the legislature, and also break down the "cascade curtain", a parochial barrier that has 'divided' two parts of the state politically. Under her tenure, the state has been recognized as one of the best managed in the country. Although I (a citizen of her State) would rather not see her go in this critical period, the Court could use her political skills, her Western perspective, and her direct experience fighting crime -- both white collar and street crimes.

She would be effective in her Judiciary Committee hearings, but Republicans might use her known position on choice as an excuse to filibuster. But, they would have to weigh that carefully. Filibustering a bright, highly-accomplished and qualified woman might galvanize women voters to do a redux of 1992 -- the "year of the woman", following the shabby treatment of Anita Hill at the Clarence Thomas hearings..

Gary Locke is Secretary of Commerce, an attorney, and the first (and only) Governor in United States history of Asian origin. He was the former Governor of Washington State, and it was not all a smooth relationship between Locke and his fellow Democrats. Despite his commitment to education, he slashed many State programs and laid off state workers in response to budget shortfalls. Prior to being Governor, Locke was a County Executive and State Representative -- a combination of legislative and executive experience to bring to a Court lacking both.

Locke, a sitting Governor, experienced racial insults, death threats, and threats to his children after he provided the Democratic response to George Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech. As we are experiencing a rise of such invective today, a Locke appointment would have the additional value of sticking it to those who would turn our country's politics into Iraq's.

Locke would, like Gregoire, provide the Court a Western perspective and would also, of course, be the first American of Asian background to be a sitting Justice. Having already been approved by the Senate to be Commerce Secretary, there should be no surprises in his background.

Gregory Craig's ouster as White House Counsel was, it appears, based on his steadfast insistence that the President adhere to his pledge to close Guantanamo, thereby running afoul of the political part of the Administration. Regrettably, very few top government officials leave because of principle (think: Colin Powell). I do not know about you, but I would like to see such integrity recognized, not just in words, but in deeds.

Dick and Liz Cheney would of course paint Craig as a supporter of assassinations (he defended the man who shot Ronald Reagan), a buddy of Fidel Castro (he represented the government in its decision to return Elian Gonzales to his father, who happened to live in Cuba), and of adultery (he defended President Clinton in his impeachment trial), but attorneys from all sides of the political spectrum -- including Ken Starr who the Special Prosecutor -- have all denounced the Cheneys' view that attorneys should not represent clients because of their beliefs or actions.

And, the major point, of course, is that, in addition to his demonstrated integrity, Craig has been involved in several of the major legal-political cases of a generation, has worked in the Executive Branch in two Administrations, and is a brilliant practicing lawyer, but not a judge.

Craig is not as young as the others. And, his hearings would be far less one-sided in favor of the nominee. That is why I listed him last. But, it would be great to see integrity recognized, and a person of Craig's experience and skill serve on the Court.

Of these five, only Turley has never received microscopic scrutiny by an inquiring press, although Craig never had to go through Senate confirmation. Whitehouse, Gregoire and Locke have been vetted by voters, and national and local press for many election cycles. Locke has already received Senate approval. Whitehouse would be amongst his colleagues.

Each of these brings something the currently-mentioned candidates do not. I think any of them would be a better choice.

"Whitehouse to the Supreme Court" is my mantra.