Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listens to a speaker on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 6, 2013.
Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty

Justice Hillary? What could have been


In his new book, longtime advisor David Axelrod reveals that President Barack Obama briefly considered appointing Hillary Clinton to the Supreme Court after she withdrew from the 2008 presidential race.

Obama ended up naming her secretary of state instead, but some Clinton allies have long been warm to the idea of the Yale-educated lawyer being named to the high court.

In an October 2008 interview with Fox News, Clinton flatly ruled out any interest in the job. She said there was “zero” chance she would be named to the court. “I have no interest in doing that,” she added.

But in the same interview, she also came close to slamming the door shut on running for president again. The chance of another White House bid was “probably close to zero,” she said. 

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When Justice John Paul Stevens stepped down in 2011, speculation grew that the then-secretary of state might be on Obama’s short list to replace Stevens. Even GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch, a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was open to the idea.

But the White House quashed the notion, “The President thinks Secretary Clinton is doing an excellent job as secretary of state and wants her to remain in that position,” said White House spokesman Tommy Vietor, who, incidentally, would go on to help Clinton in 2014 around the rollout of her memoir.

And the chatter grew again in the lead-up to the 2012 presidential election. As Clinton prepared to step down as secretary of state, some Democrats floated the idea of Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden switching jobs. Others suggested she replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whom some Democrats wanted to resign from the bench ahead of the election to ensure Obama would choose her replacement, in case a Republican won that year. 

Last year, former Clinton White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry provocatively suggested the idea again, writing in op-ed for Real Clear Politics that “Hillary is probably the one person Barack Obama could nominate who would be confirmed in a nanosecond.”

Of course, an appointment on the high court would have made it very difficult – if not impossible – for Clinton to run for president in 2016.

Already, some Democrats have privately speculated, if somewhat factiously, that a President Clinton could appoint Obama, a constitutional law professor by trade, to the court. 

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