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Clinton Hopes Obama Considers a Non-Judge for the Supreme Court

5 years ago
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Former President Bill Clinton said Sunday he hopes that President Obama will give serious consideration to candidates for the Supreme Court whose backgrounds have not been as judges. But he ruled out himself and Hillary Clinton as being too old.

Obama got his second opportunity to fill a court vacancy -- his first appointment was Sonia Sotomayor -- when Justice John Paul Stevens announced he was retiring.

"One thing I think he should think about is ... have we gone too far in this process, assuming only judges can be elected, that somehow you're not qualified if you weren't a judge?" Clinton asked on ABC's This Week. He said, "I hope he'll take a look at somebody who hasn't been a judge."

"Some of the best justices in the Supreme Court in history have been non-judges, people that -- as Hugo Black once famously said -- had been sheriffs or county judges, people that have seen how the lofty decisions of the Supreme Court affect the ordinary lives of Americans," Clinton said.

Clinton said that when he had vacancies to fill, he tried to persuade former Maine's George Mitchell, who had been a judge but also served as Senate Majority Leader and former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo to accept appointments to the court but neither one wanted to do it.

Clinton's two nominees during his term in office were Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, both of whom had served previously on the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Some of the Court's best known justices who had no prior judicial experience included Earl Warren, who had been Attorney General in California and later its governor for three terms; William Rehnquist, who had been a legal adviser to Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign and later served in the Nixon Justice Department; Felix Frankfurter, a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union and a legal adviser to Franklin Delano Roosevelt both when he was governor of New York and later President; and and Louis Brandeis, a lawyer who had been active in representing progressive causes.

Asked if he or Hillary Clinton should be on a list of non-judges to be considered, Clinton, 63, said "I'd like to see him (Obama) put someone in their late 40s or early 50s on the court and someone, you know, with a lot of energy for the job."

He said Hillary, 62, "would be great at it ... and I think at one point in her life she have might have been interested in it." But he added, "I think if she were asked, she would advise the president to appoint someone 10, 15 years younger."

Some of the non-judicial possibilities that have been mentioned include Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano who was a former governor, and senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

On NBC's Today show last week, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he had heard Hillary Clinton's name mentioned in speculation and added, ""That would be an interesting person in the mix."

Other lawmakers have also expressed interest in seeing Obama choose someone with a non-judicial background.

On Fox News Sunday last week, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) said "I'm also encouraged ... by the mention by some people of the possibility that President Obama may choose someone who is not a sitting judge at this time ... The remaining eight justices on the Supreme Court have all come to the court from appellate judgeships. Maybe we need somebody who's been a law professor, or a lawyer, a practicing lawyer, or a person in public office like a governor or a senator."

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, speaking the same day on NBC's Meet the Press, echoed Lieberman's sentiments: "I've often said I wish we could have some more people outside the judicial monastery. I think Justice Sotomayor came the closest to that having been in prosecutor and in private practice and a trial judge."
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