Politicians on the Court

I realize that headline, appearing today, might make you think I'm talking about former hoopsters turned mayor, with Dave Bing taking over in Detroit ...
by | May 6, 2009

Justice_Frank_Murphy I realize that headline, appearing today, might make you think I'm talking about former hoopsters turned mayor, with Dave Bing taking over in Detroit and joining Sacramento's Kevin Johnson as ex-NBA mayors. But I'm thinking instead about governors Obama might pick for the Supreme Court.

Governors and presidential pals Jennifer Granholm and Deval Patrick have drawn the notice of the Great Mentioner, along with recent former Gov. Janet Napolitano, now the Homeland Security secretary.

Although it's been a long time and the contemporary model clearly calls for appointments directly from the federal bench, it used to be the case that the Court was frequently home to a politician or two. After all, as in a legislature, the Court is as much about getting to five votes as it is about the law.

Back in 1994, our editor, Alan Ehrenhalt, extolled the virtues of having Sandra Day O'Connor -- a former legislative leader in Arizona -- on the Court, writing:

We want our Supreme Court justices to be perched somewhere above politics; that is why we appoint them to office and leave them there for life. But we shouldn't want them to be too far above it, or too disdainful of the people who have to practice it on a day-to-day basis. In the end, the toughest political problems are always going to be ones the politicians have to solve on their own. Reform by coercion is a dangerous strategy in the long run.

In 2005, I put up a post trying to make nice about Harriet Miers, noting her two years on the Dallas city council.

We were just throwing names around the office, trying to remember pols who'd been picked. Earl Warren, of course, donned the robes of the chief justice immediately after resigning as California governor.

Frank Murphy (pictured) left the governorship of Michigan to serve as attorney general under FDR, but stayed in that job less than a year before joining the Court. Murphy had also served as governor-general of the Phillipines -- and proceeded Bing as Detroit mayor.

A couple of years earlier, FDR had moved Hugo Black out of the U.S. Senate and onto the Court.

Who else comes to mind?

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