A University of Northern Iowa professor says President Bush’s nomination to the Supreme Court of someone who has never been a judge is something of a throwback. Professor Scott Peters says the last nominee who hadn’t been a judge was some three decades ago. He says the last justice appointed without judicial experience was William Rehnquist in the early 1970’s, and since then he says having judicial experience has kind of become the norm. He says throughout most of our history, and most of the 20th century, it was pretty common for someone to be nominated to the high court without being a judge. Rehnquist, who recently died, became the Chief Justice of the court.
The latest nominee, Harriet Miers, is a lawyer, but Peters says she could’ve been nominated without the law degree. He says there are no constitutional or statutory requirements for nominees to the federal bench or Supreme Court. He says that’s “interesting” because there are age and residency limitations place on Congress and the Presidency. Peters, who is an assistant professor of political science, says the confirmation process and politics have sort of set requirements for judges on the high court. He says, “Over time, it’s clear that you have to at least have a legal background. Other than that, what tends to matter is your overall level of qualifications and accomplishments. ” He says your ties to the president and the requirements of key constituency groups are also important, as witnessed by the latest nominee.
The Supreme Court began its new session Monday, and Sandra Day O’Connor is staying on the court until someone has been confirmed to replace her. He says that could cause a few problems. He says any case that O’Connor participates in that has not been decided by the court, the new justice is not supposed to participate in. So, any 4-4 cases would have to be reheard in the next session. Peters says the court often rehears cases, so it shouldn’t be a big problem. Peters says the best-case scenario would be a quick confirmation for Miers, but it’s not known at this point if that’ll happen.