No, Hillary, Obama Would Not Make A Great Supreme Court Justice

| by Nik Bonopartis
President Barack Obama with Justice Elena Kagan and Chief Justice John Roberts.President Barack Obama with Justice Elena Kagan and Chief Justice John Roberts.

Justice Barack Obama?

Hillary Clinton might think that title has a nice ring to it, but it probably wouldn't -- and shouldn't -- happen.

The idea was brought up on Jan. 25 during a town hall meeting in Iowa, when an audience member asked the Democratic front-runner if she'd ever consider nominating Obama to the Supreme Court if she's elected president.

“Wow, what a great idea!" Clinton said. "Nobody has ever suggested that to me. Wow! I love that."

The idea of a former president serving on the Supreme Court seems strange, but it's not without precedent. President William Howard Taft, the 27th president, served as chief justice of the Supreme Court about a decade after serving a single term as president. Taft assumed his judicial post in 1921, and served until a month before his death in 1930.

As the National Constitution Center's Constitution Daily notes, "any parallels between Obama and Taft in this area are few and far between."

Taft was a lifelong legal scholar whose ambition was to serve on the Supreme Court. He reluctantly accepted the Republican party's nomination, but never showed the flair, affability or political acumen that marked past great presidents. To put it plainly, Taft wasn't too sad when he lost his 1912 re-election bid, but he happily accepted when President Warren G. Harding nominated him for Supreme Court justice.

Obama, by contrast, is on record saying he doesn't think he'd enjoy a judicial career, despite a pre-politics resume that included teaching constitutional law and serving as president of the Harvard Law Review.

"I don’t think I have the temperament to sit in a chamber and write opinions," Obama told The New Yorker in 2014.

The president said he enjoys "wrestling with" legal arguments and has an intellectual love for the law, but told the magazine that after eight years as chief executive, he wants to escape the "bubble" of the presidency and would "need to get outside a little bit more."

"I love teaching. I miss the classroom and engaging with students," Obama said at the time. "But I think being a justice is a little bit too monastic for me."

That might be for the best. There's a reason Taft was the first and only former president to serve on the Supreme Court. In a country of more than 300 million, with careful checks and balances on power shared between the executive, legislative and judiciary branches, one man at the helm of two of those branches -- even if not concurrently -- is too much power for any single person to have, not to mention the lasting influence of judicial decisions that have a tendency to ripple through time.

Consider this: Obama would be serving alongside justices he nominated to the high court, an odd arrangement that could create the perception that he has outsize influence over the court's decisions. As justice, he might also find himself in the awkward position of having to rule on challenges to policies he enacted as president.

And finally, there's another major hurdle: Senate confirmation.

"I mean, he's brilliant, he can set forth an argument and he was a law professor," Clinton said. "So he's got all the credentials, but we would have to get a Democratic Senate to get him confirmed."

As it stands now, the Senate has 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats and two independents. Today's Senate is a far cry from the decidedly less-partisan days of Taft, who was only opposed by four senators. Any prospects for a Justice Obama would have to wait until Democrats regain the upper chamber -- Obama probably has a better chance of winning Powerball than getting a Republican-led Senate to confirm him as a justice.

Sources: ABC News, Constitution Daily, The New Yorker / Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

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