Clinton Nominates Boston Judge Breyer To Supreme Court
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton nominated federal appeals Judge Stephen G. Breyer to the Supreme Court on Friday, filling the second high court vacancy of his administration. In Breyer, Clinton chose a moderate consensus builder with deep Senate support.
″Without dispute, he is one of the outstanding jurists of our age,″ Clinton said of the 55-year-old chief judge of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
Clinton offered the lifetime appointment to Breyer in a telephone call about 5 p.m., just an hour before the announcement was made. Breyer said in Boston his role on the court would be ″to make the average person’s ordinary life better.″
Breyer would replace Justice Harry A. Blackmun, who announced in April that he would retire this year. ″Big shoes to fill,″ Breyer said.
Immediate reaction from the Senate was enthusiastic; Democrats and Republicans alike predicted swift confirmation. ″An excellent choice,″ said Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C.
The Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, called Breyer a judge of ″intellect and dedication to the law.″
″He’s a fine man,″ ranking Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said.
Breyer was named to the federal appeals court in 1980 by President Carter, becoming chief judge in 1990. He was a law clerk for Justice Arthur Goldberg in the 1960s and an assistant Watergate prosecutor later. He also served as chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will now sit in judgment.
Last year, Breyer was summoned from a hospital bed to be interviewed by Clinton and for a time was considered the favorite for last year’s nomination. But that spot ultimately went to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
This time, Clinton turned first to Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell of Maine. But Mitchell said he wanted to focus on getting health care reform passed this year and was worried the confirmation process would prove too distracting.
That sent Clinton back to his search, and again he came down to Breyer, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and another federal appeals judge, Richard Arnold of Arkansas, a longtime Clinton friend.
Babbitt was criticized by Hatch and other Republicans as being too liberal and political for the closely divided court. And Arnold was viewed as suspect by women’s groups that support abortion rights. He also has lymphoma, a form of cancer that his doctor said is not life-threatening.
Clinton’s search took five weeks. Picking a justice ″is a duty best exercised wisely and not in haste,″ he said.
In his more than 13 years on the bench, Breyer has occasionally waded into controversial areas. For example, he issued a ruling against the Bush administration’s ban on abortion counseling at clinics that receive federal funding.
Clinton announced Breyer’s appointment standing solo in the Rose Garden - a formal White House ceremony with Breyer and his family on hand was planned for Monday.
″He has a clear grasp of the law, a boundless respect for the constitutional and legal rights of the American people,″ Clinton said.
″He has proven that he can build an effective consensus and get people of diverse views to work together for justice sake.″
The president joked: ″He’s gotten Senator Kennedy and Senator Hatch together.″
Breyer said he felt confident he would pass smoothly through the confirmation process. No question would be out of bounds, he said.
As a Senate aide, Breyer helped write the legislation to deregulate the airline industry, and on the bench developed a reputation as a man who is wary of government interference in commerce.
Breyer is a graduate of Stanford, Oxford and Harvard. He is married to the former Joanna Hare and has three children. Financial disclosure forms show he is worth several million dollars in stocks and bonds; the Supreme Court annual salary is $164,100.
Breyer’s chances last year were hurt in part by the revelation he had failed to pay Social Security taxes for a household worker. Breyer then paid back taxes on the cleaning woman, but later received a refund when the Internal Revenue Service ruled that he had never been liable for taxes on her, according to White House aides.
Clinton praised Babbitt and Arnold as exceptional candidates clearly qualified for the court. Before announcing his choice, Clinton called both men to let them know they had not been selected.
″I couldn’t bear to lose him from the Cabinet,″ Clinton said of Babbitt, a former governor of Arizona. Clinton said Arnold’s cancer was a concern, but voiced confidence he would beat the disease and be a top contender if he gets a third vacancy.
Special Counsel Lloyd Cutler said that in the end, the decision came down to selecting ″the one who had the fewest problems but had the same qualities of excellence.″
He said all three finalists were in the running to the end, with senior aides hustling in and out of the Oval Office throughout the day Friday as the final decision was being hashed out.
Finally, after 4 p.m., Clinton called the aides back one last time to let them know he had made a decision.
Babbitt issued a statement saying: ″As enticing as the Great Indoors was, the Great Outdoors is where I want to spend my time. I have the job I want, it’s where I want to stay, and I think the president made a great choice.″
An Interior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Babbitt went to the White House late Wednesday night and talked with Clinton for three hours about ″virtually every issue before the Interior Department.″
Arnold said in Little Rock, Ark., that Clinton has called him to tell him of Breyer’s selection and said that was OK with him. ″He’s a brilliant legal scholar,″ Arnold said.
Ironically, the first word of worry came from a liberal Democrat.
Sen. Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio said he was concerned about some Breyer decisions affecting small business and antitrust laws. Still, Metzenbaum predicted Breyer would sail to confirmation.
From the initial reaction, it appeared that if Breyer is to face any concerted opposition it could come from the left.
″Shame on President Clinton,″ said consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who said Breyer has consistently sided with business over consumers, workers and the environment.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus expressed disappointment that Clinton had not made history by naming the first Hispanic to the high court. The National Right to Life Committee said Clinton’s choice showed he was ″the political captive of pro-abortion special interest groups.″