Bench Memos

NRO’s home for judicial news and analysis.



What Hadley Arkes wrote earlier this month:

But my own hunch is that Luttig, McConnell, and Roberts are likely to come forth when the departure of the chief opens up another slot, either to replace Rehnquist or to take the place of a sitting justice raised to his current office. Of course, I could well be wrong — and in case anyone missed it, I repeat that I may be wrong — but my own hunch is that, for very good reasons, the choice for O’Connor’s spot may center on the two Ediths: Edith Jones in Texas or Edith (Joy) Clement in Louisiana.

Edith Jones has the sharper definition as a conservative, tagged as pro-life in her perspective, and she is bound to draw the heaviest fire. Joy Clement, in contrast, would be a harder target: Her own specialty was in maritime law; she has not dealt, in her opinions, with the hot-button issues of abortion and gay rights; and she has stirred no controversies in her writings or in her speeches off the bench. She would be the most disarming nominee, and it would be a challenge even for Ralph Neas or to paint her as an ogre who could scare the populace. The main unease would come in the family of conservatives: If people don’t know her personally, they will suspect another Souter or Kennedy. For they have seen the hazard in relying on the assurances given even by the most reliable conservatives, who claim they can vouch for the nominee.

I would vouch for Joy Clement myself, and I would vouch for Edith Jones. But as I commend Joy Clement, I open myself to these searching questions from friends who have suffered the lessons of experience: If we know little, really, about her philosophy or jural principles, how do know that she will not alter when she is suddenly showered with acclaim from the law schools at Harvard and Columbia? Will she not be lured as she is praised in measures ever grander, as a jurist of high rank, as she “grows” with each step ever more “moderate” and liberal? Those who commend her face the risk of joining the ranks of those who offered assurance on Kennedy and Souter, and lost forevermore their credibility.

But even more unsettling than that, the willingness to go with the candidate without a crisp, philosophic definition may mark the willingness to act, once again, within the framework defined by the other side: It begins with the reluctance to admit that we have ever discussed the matter of abortion with this candidate, or that she has any settled views on the subject. In other words, it begins with the premise that the right to abortion is firmly anchored as an orthodoxy; that those who would question it are unwilling to admit in public that they bear any such threatening doubts. The willingness to accept premises of that kind, as the framework for confirmation, may account for a Republican party that has brought forth as jurists the team of Stevens, O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter.

If the administration finally comes forth with the name of Edith Jones, that will be taken as the clear sign of a willingness to break from those debilitating premises that signal, in advance, the eagerness to back away from an argument. But on the other hand, Edith Clement may be the stealth candidate who, for once, delivers to the other side the jolt of an unwelcome surprise. She may be the disarming candidate who truly disarms before she goes on to do the most important work that a conservative jurist at this moment can do…


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