Possible Picks for the Supreme Court; Is Kamala Harris a Fit?

Kamala Harris in Laguna Beach, January 2016

Kamala Harris in Laguna Beach, January 2016

After wading through an ocean of Tweets suggesting President Obama had Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia murdered, and calls from Republican Senators to delay the process until a new president is elected (which they assume will be a Republican), it’s time to get on to the serious business of shortlisting a replacement for the nation’s High Court.

Locally, I’d love to see UCI Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky nominated simply because of his expertise in constitutional law.  He’s only 62 and his bio says it all:

His areas of expertise are constitutional law, federal practice, civil rights and civil liberties, and appellate litigation. He is the author of eight books, including The Case Against the Supreme Court published in 2014, and more than 200 articles in top law reviews. He frequently argues cases before the nation’s highest courts, including the United States Supreme Court, and also serves as a commentator on legal issues for national and local media. He writes a weekly column for the Orange County Register, monthly columns for the ABA Journal and the Daily Journal, and frequent op-eds in newspapers across the country. In January 2014, National Jurist magazine named Dean Chemerinsky as the most influential person in legal education in the United States.

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The added bonus for me is Chemerinsky sounds a lot like Chmielewski, so at times, when I call for comment on stories from folks who’s rather not hear from me, they think it’s Erwin calling instead of me.  It’s happened quite a bit over the past few years.

The New York Times has this story handicapping likely nominees.  Among them, Padmanabhan Srikanth Srinivasan, who’s 48 and a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He is an Obama appointee to this court and confirmed by the Senate in May 2013 on 97-0 vote. He’d be the court’s first Asian American.

But prior to all this, Srinivasan was a defense lawyer for Jeffrey Skilling, the former Enron executive, in his appearance before the Supreme Court in Skilling v. United States. We asked former State Senator Joe Dunn, a candidate for Congress who touts his role in “bringing down Enron,” about this detail and what it might mean to a possible appointment to the nation’s highest court.

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“I don’t know him at all other than his reputation as a moderate/conservative judge on the DC circuit, albeit appointed by Obama.” said Dunn.  “And while he represented Enron, specifically Jeff Skilling, I’m not sure that says anything about his judicial philosophy one way or the other. What I am willing to say is that whomever is selected as the nominee, it will be heavily driven by the politics of the situation and less about the merits. The merits of the nominee of course will have to be solid, but beyond that, it is the politics of the situation that will dictate the approach.”

Another interesting shortlisted candidate is California AG Kamala Harris, a candidate for US Senate.  Harris brings another woman to the court and her multi-racial background would represent another “first.” The Harris Senate campaign is a muddled mess of fired consultants, fundraising (can you spare $5?) and 5-star hotels, so while she might welcome a nomination to the high court, Harris has no judicial experience to speak of and her liberal credentials would make the Senate confirmation process a lost cause.

There’s even a Change.org petition to name Anita Hill to the high court. Professor Hill is indeed a brilliant scholar, but her nomination is better suited to an SNL sketch than the nation’s high court; time to bring out all your old Clarence Thomas jokes.  Harris is better qualified, but isn’t the thought of Justice Thomas having to sit on the same bench as Professor Hill just so much fun to consider?

I expect the president to nominate someone with the experience and background that will finally tilt the court to the left instead of the right. Expect the first person named to be viciously attacked by the far right.  The candidate, if delayed or denied appointment by the Republicans, will create an enormous political risk for the Republicans, especially Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, come November.

Justice Scalia’s legal rulings were never anything we agreed with.  But we do express our sympathies to his wife, children and grandchildren as well as his many friends on his loss.