Which United States Supreme Court justice would you hold up as a model when considering Supreme Court nominees? The BDN asked this question of four U.S. Senate candidates in editorial board meetings on Wednesday, and it elicited some revealing answers. The next Maine senator could play an important role in confirming future presidential nominees for the country’s highest court. Which current or past justice would they like to see emulated? Why?
Independent candidate Angus King said he appreciated the pragmatism of retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. He would look for future justices to be intelligent, open-minded and to “go where the truth leads them.” Too often justices start with an ideology and apply it to the situation at hand, King said. But O’Connor, whom Republican President Ronald Reagan nominated in 1981 as the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, was a good listener who made decisions on each individual case based on the facts of the law.
Fittingly for King, both conservatives and liberals complained about O’Connor’s nomination. The right said she lacked experience, while the left expressed disappointment about her apparent lack of interest in feminist issues. Over time, though, she became known as a practical centrist, often writing opinions that sought to narrow the conservative view of the court.
Republican Charlie Summers, who has tried to emphasize differences between himself and King in advertisements and debates, also chose O’Connor. In addition he pointed to Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. — who was crucial in famously upholding President Barack Obama’s health-care mandate because of the fact that Congress has taxing power. Though Roberts is conservative — and was nominated by President George W. Bush — he did not seek to invalidate the entire Affordable Care Act as the other conservative justices would have done.
Democrats have and will continue to paint Summers as an extreme conservative, but his answers didn’t reflect radicalism. Summers added that one of his favorite presidents is Democrat Lyndon Johnson, the former vice president who was sworn in as president after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. Johnson was elected the following year with 61 percent of the vote, the widest margin in history, and later became known for the Great Society program, which focused on social reforms. Summers said even if he doesn’t agree with everything Johnson did, he admires his ability to “make things happen.”
Democrat Cynthia Dill’s answers reflected her strong commitment to women and minorities, as she chose Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Nominated by Obama, Sotomayor is the first Hispanic and third woman to serve on the court; Ginsburg is the second woman, nominated by Democratic President Bill Clinton.
Dill described Sotomayor as articulate and brilliant and Ginsburg as courageous and insightful. Both women are on the liberal-leaning side of the court, though Ginsburg has not been afraid to side with the conservative justices. The picks show Dill’s focus on preserving women’s rights and civil rights. She has often talked about the lack of women and minorities in the Senate.
Independent Steve Woods did not specify which justice he would hold up as a model, saying instead he would want to make sure that any nominee has a background of upholding human rights. He pointed out that four of the justices are 74 or older, so the next Maine senator may have an opportunity or two to participate in nomination hearings.
The Senate candidates’ answers shed light on the attributes they appreciate in those who hold positions of great power, and the answers appear to reflect the qualities they have tried to emphasize in their political pursuits. The characteristics are certainly those the next senator should aspire to, as well.