In a Monday article, USA Today's Joan Biskupic (her “Court Beat” blog) identified retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens as “liberal,” but in an accompanying sidebar on “second court picks by recent presidents,” she saw Republicans naming “ideological” conservatives to advance their agendas while Democrat Bill Clinton picked “pragmatic liberals.” Yes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a “pragmatic liberal.”
Biskupic, a regular on PBS's Washington Week who left the Washington Post for USA Today ten years ago, contented “President Reagan and the first President Bush used their second Supreme Court nominations to make bold choices that strongly advanced their ideological interests” with Reagan picking “conservative jurist [Antonin] Scalia” while George H.W, Bush, after selecting “a moderate appeals court judge, David Souter,” settled on Clarence Thomas, “now one of the court's most conservative justices.”
In contrast, “when President Clinton got his second court vacancy, he opted for the pragmatic liberal Stephen Breyer rather than a real firebrand.” Repeating her point, with Clinton she saw more nuance than with the GOP Presidents: “His first pick was pragmatic liberal judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in 1993. His second pick Breyer, in 1994, was in the same mode.”
Recalling the second President Bush, she asserted “both [John] Roberts and [Sam] Alito advanced Bush's conservative agenda,” though she acceded “neither is a firebrand in the mold of Scalia.”
Thomas and Scalia are certainly conservative, but, adopting Buskupic's description of Thomas, isn't it more accurate to describe both Ginsburg and Breyer as “the court's most liberal justices”?
From the sidebar on page 5A of the Monday, April 12 USA Today (this text matches what appeared in the newspaper and is slightly different than the online version):
President Reagan and the first President Bush used their second Supreme Court nominations to make bold choices that strongly advanced their ideological interests. Reagan picked Antonin Scalia in 1986; Bush chose Clarence Thomas in 1991. When President Clinton got his second court vacancy, he opted for the pragmatic liberal Stephen Breyer rather than a real firebrand.
USA TODAY's Joan Biskupic looks at the recent history of second picks:
Reagan: For his first choice, in 1981, he fulfilled a campaign vow to select the first female justice and named Sandra Day O'Connor. In 1986, he opted for someone who embodied his agenda with conservative jurist Scalia.
George H.W. Bush: His first choice, in 1990, was a moderate appeals court judge, David Souter. His second appointment, in 1991, went to appeals judge Thomas, now one of the court's most conservative justices.
Clinton: His first pick was pragmatic liberal judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in 1993. His second pick, Breyer, in 1994, was in the same mode.
George W. Bush: He first chose appeals judge John Roberts....and Bush selected appeals judge Samuel Alito. Both Roberts and Alito advanced Bush's conservative agenda, yet neither is a firebrand in the mold of Scalia.