Now that President George W. Bush has another chance to nominate an undeniably superb candidate for the Supreme Court, he has a encouragingly deep bench from which to choose. The deserving names are by now familiar: Alito, Luttig, Jones, Batchelder, Sykes, Brown, Pryor (if only!), Olson….. the list goes on.
But for both short-term considerations and for decades of principled, textualist jurisprudence, the best choice the White House could make right now would be Christopher Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and former longtime member of the House Republican leadership.
Cox, 53, is conservative, brilliant, well-liked on Capitol Hill, and eminently qualified. He has thought deeply and written knowledgeably about constitutional law. He is confirmable in the Senate. And if challenged at what will be well-publicized hearings, he is more than erudite enough, more than telegenic enough, and more than articulate enough to seize an unprecedented “teaching moment” to explain conservative jurisprudential principles to the public in a manner persuasive, straightforward, and understandable.
First, his qualifications: Cox, unlike the gracious but less-credentialed Harriet Miers, is perfect proof of President Bush’s contention that one need not be a judge to merit a Supreme Court appointment. He earned honors while securing both an M.B.A. and a J.D. from Harvard, and later was a lawyer and a lecturer at Harvard Business School. He vetted judicial nominees as senior associate counsel to President Ronald Reagan. He served in Congress for 17 years, 10 of them in the House GOP leadership, taking on a wide variety of high-profile and complicated assignments. Even as he compiled a highly conservative voting record, he also built a record of securing bipartisan consensus on matters as diverse as Chinese espionage, securities litigation reform, Internet taxation, and others. He was the founding, and highly effective, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. And he has written at least two high-quality essays on constitutional law for the Wall Street Journal, praising Justices Scalia and Thomas and criticizing justices who “reject the traditional legal rule that language should be read as plainly as possible, in favor of … a more ‘creative’ and ‘flexible’ approach to deciding what a statute means.”
After a thorough vetting, the Senate confirmed him unanimously as SEC chairman three months ago. There is precedent for naming an SEC chairman to the high Court: Liberal lion William O. Douglas held the SEC post when President Franklin Roosevelt named him as a justice.
Second: He is confirmable. His unanimous confirmation to the SEC was evidence of the high respect he enjoys on Capitol Hill. Cerebral, courteous, and fair-minded, he had been one of the rare representatives who was able to be unyielding on principle while still developing excellent working relationships across the political aisle. And if the Democrats nevertheless try to filibuster him because of his strong pro-life voting record, the respect and personal relationships he enjoys within his own party make him the potential nominee most likely to earn unanimous GOP support for triggering the “constitutional option” that would end filibusters on judicial candidates. (Obviously, such an outcome would be good for conservatives across the board, as that would open the way for many solid appeals-court nominees to be confirmed as well.)
Third, he is brilliant. His Russian-language skills are so good, for instance, that he ran a business providing translations of Soviet newspapers so Americans could see their Cold War enemy’s propaganda for ourselves. (When I was an aide for Rep. Bob Livingston, I worked personally with Cox on certain occasions and saw his keen, analytical intellect firsthand.) As was the case with Chief Justice John Roberts, his intellect alone would impress the American public. Combine that with a profound articulacy and a mind quick enough to flummox the most antagonistic TV interviewers (not to mention the most windbaggy liberal senators), and he makes a perfect witness for himself if Senate committee hearings get tendentious.
Finally, his nomination would shine a harsh light on the Democrats’ unfair ways of blocking judicial nominees. He would have been a judge for four years already if California’s leftist Sen. Barbara Boxer hadn’t used a “blue slip” in 2001 to block his appointment to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals without even benefit of a hearing. In person, there is no way the mild-mannered Chairman Cox comes off as the least bit radical, so the American public would see for themselves just how flimsy a case liberals actually have had for their nomination-blocking maneuvers. (Of course, conservatives would particularly enjoy seeing the shrill and radical Boxer embarrassed.)
A favorite of George Will’s and a host of other conservative writers, a man reportedly on Bush’s short list for vice president in 2000, a long laborer (despite his relative youth) in the conservative vineyards, Chris Cox has all the right stuff to win public accolades right now and to provide decades of top-notch, well-written decisions on the Supreme Court.
For President Bush, the good news is that so many other possible nominees would be home-run choices as well. But none of them offer Cox’s great combination of principle, erudition, qualifications and political skills. And while actual service on the Supreme Court is not and should not about public politics, getting confirmed in today’s atmosphere (and in the midst of Bush’s low poll ratings) will take all the political savvy a nominee can muster.
To rally the Republican base, appeal to the broad center of the American public, confound the Left, and be a great Supreme Court Justice, Chris Cox is the man for the job.
–Quin Hillyer is an editorial writer and columnist for the Mobile Register.