Next year, on the day the next president is inaugurated, three Supreme Court justices will be over the age of 80. It creates a rare and powerful opportunity for President Obama’s successor to shape the course of the court for a generation.
But what if Obama himself were considered for one of those likely vacancies? MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald reported yesterday that Hillary Clinton was asked about the possibility at an event in Iowa, and she seemed to like the idea.
At a town hall meeting here five days before the Iowa caucuses, a voter asked the Democratic presidential candidate if she would be open to nominating Obama, a former constitutional law professor and president of the Harvard Law Review, to the nation’s highest court. Clinton laughed and marveled that no one had ever asked that question.“That’s a great idea,” she said, noting that the next president may be able to appoint as many as four justices. “I would certainly take that under advisement. I mean, he is brilliant and he can set forth an argument.”
The Democratic candidate acknowledged that the Senate confirmation hearings might be a little tricky, which seems like a perfectly fair point.
Chances are, Clinton, if elected, wouldn’t pick this particular fight with Senate Republicans, who make little effort to contain their contempt for President Obama, so this is more a fun thought experiment than an analysis of a likely event.
But just for kicks, let’s ask three pertinent questions.
First, has anything like this ever happen before? As Seitz-Wald’s piece noted, yes. William Howard Taft, who served one term in the White House in the early 20th century, was named the Supreme Court’s chief justice eight years after leaving office. In other words, Justice Obama wouldn’t be completely unprecedented.
Second, would the president even want such a gig? Chances are, no. Asked about this scenario in a 2014 interview with The New Yorker, Obama said, “I think being a Justice is a little bit too monastic for me. Particularly after having spent six years and what will be eight years in this bubble, I think I need to get outside a little bit more.”
And third, from a progressive perspective, would this even be a good idea? I’d argue against it for one simple reason: Barack Obama, by the time he leaves office, will be a 55-year-old former smoker. Not to put too fine a point on this, but there’s simply no way Hillary Clinton could consider someone like the president for the Supreme Court.
The goal should be to find the youngest, healthiest possible center-left jurist, preferably someone with parents who lived to be 110.
For a former president, Obama will be quite young. For a prospective high court justice, Obama will be over the hill.