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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The end of the Warren Court (Reposted and Updated)

Elsewhere, Steve  notes that today marks the 50th anniversary of Abe Fortas' resignation from SCOTUS, making it the last day that the Court had a majority of Democratic appointees.

But it is more than just the appointing party.

In his history of the Warren Court, Lucas Powe argues that what we label "The Warren Court" lasted about 6 1/2 years. It began in the fall of 1962 with the appointment of Arthur Goldberg, which provided a consistent five-person liberal/civil libertarian majority. Goldberg was replaced by Fortas three years later, continuing that five-person majority on mostly the same terms (save for perhaps a few outlier votes). And the appointment of Thurgood Marshall in 1967 solidified that majority by providing a one-vote cushion--the liberal position could afford one defection (such as Justice Black in some crim pro cases) and still retain the majority. Because of Fortas' forced resignation, that six-Justice majority became a four-Justice minority within four months of Nixon's inauguration.

This presents two fun what-ifs. First, Fortas was 58 when he resigned and lived another 13 years. How different might the jurisprudence of the 1970s have been had he remained on the Court with Douglas (replaced by Stevens in 1975), Brennan, and Marshall  as a starting point. And maybe Fortas retires prior to 1980 and gives Jimmy Carter the appointment he never had. Second, how might Nixon's Court appointments have differed? If Fortas does not resign, Blackmun remains on the Eighth Circuit in 1971 when Black and Harlan retire within days of one another. Does Nixon nominate Blackmun for one of those spots, since he appears to have been Nixon's "next" nominee, or had his time passed? Does Powell or Rehnquist, who were commissioned simultaneously, get the other? And if Powell, how does Rehnquist get on the Court and, more importantly, still become Chief?

Update: SCOTUSBlog has an interview with author Michael Bobelian about his new book Battle for the Marble Palace, which examines Fortas' failed nomination as Chief, marking it as the starting point for the "modern" Supreme Court and "modern" appointments process.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 14, 2019 at 04:50 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink

Comments

FWIW:

https://balkin.blogspot.com/2018/10/the-vicious-entrenchment-circle.html

Posted by: Marty Lederman | May 15, 2019 5:20:17 AM

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