CBS's Schieffer: Justice Stevens Example of 'Ability and Independence,' Not 'Ideology'

Bob Schieffer, CBS
In his end-of-the-show commentary on Sunday's Face the Nation on CBS, host Bob Schieffer cited a Saturday New York Times article celebrating retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens: "that Justice Stevens 'may be the last justice from a time when ability and independence, rather than perceived ideology, were viewed as the crucial qualifications for a seat on the court.'"

Schieffer agreed with that assessment and declared that for President Gerald Ford "sending John Paul Stevens to the Supreme Court is not a bad legacy." He concluded: "As Justice Stevens's fine service was being rightly celebrated last week, I couldn't help but think of that as well."

Prior to his commentary, Schieffer spoke with CBS legal analyst Jan Crawford about possible nominees to replace Stevens. Crawford argued that President Obama and Democrats would attempt to "counter" Republican efforts to "beat up on their candidate," "by continuing to portray the Supreme Court as out of touch with everyday Americans."

As an example of that strategy, Crawford pointed to Obama berating the court over its recent campaign finance decision: "We saw the President take that unprecedented swipe at the Supreme Court during his State of the Union address back in January, when he talked about their recent campaign finance ruling that allowed unlimited spending by corporations and unions. That decision is enormously unpopular with the American people. Polls show 70 to 80% of people oppose that."

Crawford later noted: "You're going to see the White House continue to beat that drum through this nomination process and into these confirmation hearings. They're going to have a nominee that they think can prove that Democrats, not Republicans, understand everyday Americans."

Schieffer wondered about the "leading contenders" for the nomination and Crawford listed the top three, claiming all would have some conservative support:
Jan Crawford, CBS

Merrick Garland, who's a federal appeals court judge in Washington, D.C., considered probably the easiest to confirm, more moderate than some of the other candidates. And someone that Republicans probably would accept. So that would disappoint the base.

And there's a lot of call inside the White House and inside the administration for another woman. Remember, out of nine justices, only two are women. So that points to Elena Kagan. She's the solicitor general. She argues the United States' position in the Supreme Court. She was the former dean of Harvard Law School. And she's got some support among conservatives because she hired a lot of those conservative law professors at Harvard and really brought that school together, could maybe also could build some alliances once on the Supreme Court.

And then finally, there's Diane Wood, she's a federal appeals court judge in Chicago. Very highly regarded. Works well. Very highly regarded by her conservative colleagues on that court. You know, Frank Easterbrook and Richard Posner, also a professor from the University of Chicago, taught antitrust law. But she's been sitting out there on that appeals court and has had some controversial decisions on things like abortion. So I think she might be a fight.

Schieffer went on to claim that any Republican strategy to oppose a nominee would be "tricky." Crawford described circumstances in which Republicans may seek a filibuster: "A lot people on the left would like to see someone who's very, very progressive to lead the liberal wing and go toe-to-toe with John Roberts. Kind of the equivalent legal liberal. But he would be filibustered. Republicans would block that nomination." That implies that Chief Justice Roberts is "very, very" conservative and in need of being balanced.

Crawford concluded that Obama and the Democrats: "don't want that kind of fight. They want someone that they're going to get confirmed at the end of the day....you take who is the most progressive liberal that can affect the court in a strategic way versus who can you get confirmed."

Here is a full transcript of Schieffer's discussion with Crawford:
10:47AM TEASE:

BOB SCHIEFFER: And we're joined now by our chief legal correspondent Jan Crawford, who's here to talk about the other big story of the week, the retirement of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

10:48AM SEGMENT:

SCHIEFFER: Well, Jan, let's get to your – your big story. When do we expect the White House to act on this? My sense is that they're going to move as quickly as they can, and the nominee is going to be someone as non-controversial as possible, because the one thing they don't need right now is a big fight going into the mid- term elections.

JAN CRAWFORD: Well, the President said on Friday that he'd be looking to nominate a candidate within the weeks to come. I think we'll definitely have a nominee by Memorial Day.
They don't want to do it too soon because that gives the Republicans a chance to beat up on their candidate in advance of the hearings, which can't take place until July. Justice Stevens is not officially retiring until the end of the court's term in June.

And this comes, I think, at a tricky time for the White House and for Democrats in general, because every second that they spend not talking about jobs and trying to sell an unpopular health care plan are, in many ways, a boon to Republicans. And one way I think they're going to counter that, my sources say, is by continuing to portray the Supreme Court as out of touch with everyday Americans.

We saw the President take that unprecedented swipe at the Supreme Court during his State of the Union address back in January, when he talked about their recent campaign finance ruling that allowed unlimited spending by corporations and unions. That decision is enormously unpopular with the American people. Polls show 70 to 80% of people oppose that. And the key thing that he said on Friday – that the President said, when he was talking about Justice Stevens's retirement, was about that ruling. Let's take a listen to that clip.

BARACK OBAMA: It will also be someone who, like Justice Stevens, knows that in a democracy powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.

CRAWFORD: Now just like you said earlier, things don't happen by accident in Washington. That statement was calculated and deliberate. You're going to see the White House continue to beat that drum through this nomination process and into these confirmation hearings. They're going to have a nominee that they think can prove that Democrats, not Republicans, understand everyday Americans.

SCHIEFFER: So let's talk about who. Who would you say are the leading contenders right now?

CRAWFORD: Well, they're – my sources say that there's a kind of fluid list right now of 10 candidates. But already intense vetting is under way. Some of those people are there really as a courtesy. Intense vetting is under way. And they're focusing on three candidates at this point. Not ruling people out at this point, but I think three people are really emerging as ones that we really need to focus on.

Merrick Garland, who's a federal appeals court judge in Washington, D.C., considered probably the easiest to confirm, more moderate than some of the other candidates. And someone that Republicans probably would accept. So that would disappoint the base.

And there's a lot of call inside the White House and inside the administration for another woman. Remember, out of nine justices, only two are women. So that points to Elena Kagan. She's the solicitor general. She argues the United States' position in the Supreme Court. She was the former dean of Harvard Law School. And she's got some support among conservatives because she hired a lot of those conservative law professors at Harvard and really brought that school together, could maybe also could build some alliances once on the Supreme Court.

And then finally, there's Diane Wood, she's a federal appeals court judge in Chicago. Very highly regarded. Works well. Very highly regarded by her conservative colleagues on that court. You know, Frank Easterbrook and Richard Posner, also a professor from the University of Chicago, taught antitrust law. But she's been sitting out there on that appeals court and has had some controversial decisions on things like abortion. So I think she might be a fight.

SCHIEFFER: This is going to be a tricky thing for Republicans too, the strategy here. Do you expect them to put up a huge fight? Is there any chance that they would try to filibuster this?

CRAWFORD: Well, sure. I mean, they could filibuster a really controversial nominee. Let's say someone like Harold Koh, who's the head of the – the chief lawyer in the State Department, former dean of Harvard Law School. A lot people on the left would like to see someone who's very, very progressive to lead the liberal wing and go toe-to-toe with John Roberts. Kind of the equivalent legal liberal. But he would be filibustered. Republicans would block that nomination.

And I don't think there's any indication at all the White House would nominate him. They don't want that kind of fight. They want someone that they're going to get confirmed at the end of the day. And when they start gaming this out, they're going to try to get the best, most – it's almost like charting it out on a graph. You know, you take who is the most progressive liberal that can affect the court in a strategic way versus who can you get confirmed. And they'll plot that out when they make that decision.

SCHIEFFER: Is it your sense they can get this done before the congressional recess in August?

CRAWFORD: Oh, yes, and that's what they want to do. And in his note to the White House, Justice Stevens made clear that he was giving them the heads up so that that could happen, they could have this process get started and have someone confirmed before August.

SCHIEFFER: Alright. Jan Crawford, thank you so much.
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC