Legal history

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Most Americans interested in U.S. Supreme Court vacancies and how they are filled are well aware that any president with the opportunity to nominate a chief justice and an associate justice stands a good chance of affecting judicial history in terms of key decisions over many years.

So it is with appropriate concern and a certain level of passion that supporters and detractors of President Bush's recent nominations are expressing their views. With the confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts, attention is focused on the nomination of Harriet Miers, who has served this year as White House counsel in the Bush administration.

For those with short-term memories, it has come as something of a surprise that Miers has never been a judge. Her legal background has been on the other side of the bench. And she has been recognized by her peers in Texas, her home state, where she served as the first woman to preside over the Dallas Bar Association and the Texas Bar Association.

It may come as more of a surprise to some that nearly half of the 100-plus men and women who have served on the U.S. Supreme Court had no judicial experience when they were nominated. Since 1900, 53 justices have been nominated, and 23 of them had never spent a day wearing judge's robes.

Among recent justices who came to the High Court without previous experience as a judge is William Rehnquist, the chief justice who served from 1972 until his death a few weeks ago. Earl Warren, another chief justice who served from 1953 to 1969 had no judicial experience. Others include Byron White, Arthur Goldberg, Abe Fortas and Lewis Powell -- justices who distinguished themselves as justices of the nation's highest court.

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