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Presidents and their Justices

August 25, 2011
Presidents and Their Justices, by Douglas Clouatre (Lanham, MD: University Press of America Inc., 2010).Reviewed by Joe Parsio, Head of Access Services.Presidents and.jpg
The book is based on a 2005 survey of historians, lawyers, and political scientists.   Clouatre is a political science and history instructor at Mid Plains Community College, who writes on the Supreme Court and the American presidency.   Biddle also owns his Ph.D. thesis on the Burger and Rehnquist Courts.
Since the creation of Article III of the United States Constitution in 1789, 112 Supreme Court justices have been appointed for life and 54 have resigned or retired.  The average length of service on the court was less than 15 years until 1970, when the average increased to approximately 26 years.  Congress has on occasion altered the size of the court.  The book delves into presidential court appointments and how a justice’s career affects a president’s legacy.  The appointments are unpredictable events, since the justices retire at their own discretion and can serve far beyond the presidential term.
Presidents and Their Justices gives some interesting personal background on a few justices and political deals.   Bushrod Washington, appointed by President John Adams, for instance, was George Washington’s nephew.   William Howard Taft was both president and justice, but it was the Supreme Court he always coveted and not the Presidency.  John Marshall Harlan I was nominated by President Rutherford Hays in 1877 and his grandson, John Marshall Harlan II, was nominated by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955.
Presidents and Their Justices can be hard to follow since Clouatre divides the book into sections of great presidents who made successful appointments, great presidents who failed in their appointments and mediocre presidents who made successful appointments.  Because of this arrangement, the book jumps back and forth chronologically.  In view of this, it would have been helpful if the book contained a time line or time chart of all the justices.
Clouatre also discusses presidents with failed administrations characterized by scandal or economic collapse, whose presidencies were the low point of their political career, like John Adams or James Madison.  Yet Adams and Madison chose two of the greatest justices, John Marshall selected Adams and Joseph Story selected Madison.  Both Ulysses Grant and Warren Harding’s presidencies were beset by scandal, yet they appointed justices who enhanced their legacies.  Harding nominated William Howard Taft, who was an unimpressive one term president.  Taft spent nine years as chief justice and was an intellectual leader who set the standard for warrantless wiretaps and car searches.  Nixon and Taft were also considered failed presidents.  But during Taft’s one term he filled six court vacancies, remaking the court.  When Chief Justice Earl Warren resigned, Nixon faced a judicial bench with limited qualified Republican nominees and chose Warren Burger, a night school law graduate and veteran of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit,
Presidents and their Justices offers an innovative look at the relationship between a president and the Supreme Court justices they appoint.  Learn more about other presidents and how their Supreme Court appointments have influenced their legacy.