This is going to be a really long post that you probably don't want to read but might want to bookmark as a not-so-handy guide for future reference.
One of the things we've been hearing all morning out of Washington is that one needn't have been a judge to be on the Supreme Court. True enough. By my count, it's happened 42 times out of 109 total justices, most recently when William Rehnquist was named to the court.
But I do think it's safe to say that rarely (if ever) have a Supreme Court nominee's qualifications and accomplishments been so . . . well, feeble. Now, I'm no judicial scholar, but I can read a resume. Here's how Miers stacks up with the other 42 SC nominees with no judicial experience. You can read Miers' dossier here.
- John Jay: Graduated King's College (now Columbia) 1764; Served as delegate to First and Second Continental Congresses; Diplomat to Spain, 1779; Negotiated Treaty of Paris, 1783; Wrote several Federalist Papers; Nominated as first Chief Justice US Supreme Court, 1789.
- James Wilson: Faculty, College of Philadelphia, 1765-1768; Delegate to First Continental Congress, 1775; Signed Declaration of Independence, 1776; Delegate to Second Continental Congress; Delegate to Constitutional Convention, 1787, served on committee that produced first draft of US Constitution; Signer of the Constitution; Served as delegate to Pennsylvania Ratification Convention; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1789.
- John Rutledge: South Carolina House of Commons, 1761-1764; Attorney General of South Carolina, 1764; Delegate to the Stamp Act Congress, 1765; Delegate to the Constitutional Convention; head of South Carolina Ratification Committee; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1789; resigned a year later to become Chief Justice of South Carolina Supreme Court; Nominated as Chief Justice of US Supreme Court in 1795, but had gone visibly crazy since death of wife three years earlier; nomination rejected by frightened Congress.
- William Paterson: Graduated Princeton, 1763; served as officer in Revolutionary War; Delegate, Provincial Congress of New Jersey, 1775; Delegate, State Constitutional Convention, 1776; Drafted New Jersey Constitution; Attorney General, New Jersey, 1776-1783; Delegate to the Constitutional Convention; Senator in the First Federal Congress, drafted Judiciary Act of 1789, creating the federal court system; Governor of New Jersey, 1790-1793; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1793.
- Bushrod Washington: Graduated William and Mary, 1778; Virginia House of Delegates, 1787; Delegate, Virginia Ratification Convention, 1788; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1798. Old Bushrod had a long and undistinguished SC career, but he had the right uncle, which counted then as now.
- John Marshall: Virginia House of Delegates, 1782, 1787, 1795; Diplomatic envoy to France, 1797; US House of Representatives, 1799; US Secretary of State, 1800-1801; Nominated Chief Justice US Supreme Court, 1801; despite confirmation, Marshall continued to serve as Secretary of State through Adams' term; became perhaps greatest Supreme Court justice ever.
- Joseph Story: Graduate Harvard, 1978; Massachusetts Legislature, 1805; US House of Representatives, 1809-1810; Speaker of Massachusetts House, 1811; Nominated Associate Justice of US Supreme Court in 1811, aged 32, the youngest person ever appointed to SC; one of the ablest writers on US law, Story wrote a series of commentaries while serving both on SC and as Professor of Law at Harvard.
- Roger Brooke Taney: Graduated Dickinson College, 1795; Maryland House of Delegates, 1799-1816; Maryland State Senate, 1816-1821; Maryland Attorney General, 1827-1831; US Attorney General, 1831-1833; Nominated to a recess appointment as US Treasury Secretary, 1833, defeated for confirmation by Senate a year later because of his role in Jackson's veto of the Second Bank of the United States; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1835, defeated by Senate; Nominated Chief Justice US Supreme Court in 1836 after Senate elections reshuffled the political deck; Confirmed as US Chief Justice, 1836; went on to write Dred Scott decision.
- Henry Baldwin: Graduated Yale, 1797; Pittsburgh Public Safety Council during War of 1812; US House of Representatives, 1816-1822; boss, Allegheny County, 1824-1830; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1830.
- Salmon P. Chase: Graduated Dartmouth, 1826; Wrote Free-Soil Party platform, 1848; US Senate, 1848-1853; Governor of Ohio, 1855-1859; US Senate, 1860; US Treasury Secretary, 1860-1864; Nominated Chief Justice US Supreme Court, 1864.
- John McKinley: Alabama State Legislature, 1820-26, 1831-33, 1836-38; US Senate, 1826-1831; US House of Representatives, 1833-1834; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1837.
- Morrison R. Waite: Graduated Yale, 1837; Ohio General Assembly, 1850-1854; Appointed by Grant to a commission to settle US claims against Great Britain for aiding the Confederacy during the Civil War, bringing in $15.5 million; Ohio Constitutional Convention, 1873-4; Nominated Chief Justice US Supreme Court, 1874.
- Benjamin R. Curtis: Graduated Harvard, 1829, Harvard Law, 1832; Massachusetts State Legislature, 1849-1851, reformed state judicial procedures with Massachusetts Practice Act of 1851; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1851; resigned in 1857; notable as one of the two dissenters in Dred Scott case, and for defending Andrew Johnson in his impeachment hearings.
- John A. Campbell: Graduated U. of Georgia (at 14 years old, thank you very much), 1825; attended West Point; Alabama State Legislature, 1837-1853; After watching his predecessor, Millard Fillmore, try three SC nominees who were all rejected, new President Pierce, hoping desperately to hold the Union together by nominating a Southerner, sent up Campbell to the SC in 1853. The Union held together for seven more years.
- Melville Weston Fuller: Graduated Bowdoin, 1853; City Solicitor, Augusta, ME, 1855; Illinois House of Representatives, 1863-1864; longtime Democratic political operative in Illinois; Nominated Chief Justice US Supreme Court, 1888; declared the income tax law unconstitutional.
- Nathan Clifford: Maine House of Representatives1830-1833; Attorney General of Maine, 1834-1838; US House of Representatives, 1839-1842; US Attorney General, 1846-1848; US Minister to Mexico, 1848-1849; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1857;
- Noah Swayne: Prosecuting Attorney Coschocton County, Ohio, 1825-1829; US Attorney for Ohio, 1830-1841; Columbus City Council 1834-1836; Ohio State Legislature, 1836-1838; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1862.
- Joseph P. Bradley: 30 years as a New Jersey patent, commercial, and railroad law, which was probably the only way to get nominated by the Grant administration, which he was, in 1870; Bradley, the Sandra Day O'Connor of his day, went on to cast the deciding vote in the disputed 1876 presidential election, making Republican Rutherford B. Hayes president by a margin of one electoral vote.
- Charles Evans Hughes: Graduate Brown, 1881; Practiced law in New York City for 20 years; Taught at Cornell; Governor of New York, 1905-1910; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court in 1910; Hughes slummed around in that job for six years before resigning to run for president as a Republican; Lost general election to Wilson; Served as Secretary of State from 1921-1925; US Delegate to the Hague 1926-1930; Nominated Chief Justice US Supreme Court, 1930.
- Lucius Q. C. Lamar: Graduated Emory, 1845; Georgia Legislature, 1853-1854; US House of Representatives from MS, 1857-1860; Served as officer in Confederate Army, last two years of war as Lee's Judge Advocate for the Army of Northern Virginia; US House of Representatives, 1873-1876; US Senate, 1877-1885; US Interior Secretary, 1885-1887; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1887.
- Harlan Fiske Stone: Graduated Amherst College, 1894; Columbia Law, 1989; Private practice and Professor at Columbia, 1899-1924; Dean, Columbia Law, 1910-1924; US Attorney General, 1924-1925; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1925; Nominated Chief Justice US Supreme Court, 1941.
- George Shiras, Jr.: Graduated Yale, 1853; Specialized in railroad and corporate law for 37 years in Pittsburgh; Heavy Pittsburgh politico; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1892; cast deciding vote in Pollock v. Farmers' Loan and Trust, illegalizing the income tax and necessitating the 16th Amendment.
- William H. Moody: Graduated Harvard, 1876; City Solicitor, Haverhill, MA, 1888-1890; District Attorney, Eastern Massachusetts, 1890-1865; US House of Representatives, 1895-1902; US Secretary of the Navy, 1902-1904; US Attorney General, 1904-1906; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1906.
- Earl Warren: Graduated U. of California, 1912; UC Law, 1914; Deputy City Attorney for Oakland, CA, 1919-1920; Deputy Assistant District Attorney, Alameda County, CA, 1920-1925; District Attorney, Alameda County, CA, 1925-1938; California Attorney General, 1938-1942; Governor of California, 1942-1950; Sought Republican Party presidential nomination in 1952; Nominated Chief Justice US Supreme Court under a recess appointment in 1953, confirmed 1954; oversaw one of the great miscarriages of justice in US history and helped to permanently bend the spine of American politics, jurisprudence, and culture when he chaired the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy.
- James Clark McReynolds: Graduated U. Virginia, 1882; Virginia Law, 1884; Assistant Attorney General in charge of trust busting under Theodore Roosevelt; US Attorney General, 1913-1914; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1914.
- Louis Brandeis: Graduated Harvard Law, 1877; Long career in private practice; Founded Harvard Law Review; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1916.
- George Sutherland: Utah State Senate, 1896-1904; US Senate 1904-1916; US Counsel to the Hague, 1921-1922; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1922.
- Pierce Butler: Graduate Carleton College, 1887; County Attorney, Ramsey County, MN, 1893-1897; Butler, despite strong objections over his outspoken conservative views, was confirmed as an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, where, during the 1930s he vigorously opposed every single piece of New Deal legislation.
- Owen J. Roberts: Graduated Penn, 1895; Penn Law, 1898; Professor, Penn, 1898-1919; Assistant District Attorney of Philadelphia, 1901-1904; Special Deputy Attorney General for Eastern Pennsylvania, 1918-1924; Special US Attorney investigating the Harding administration, 1924-1930; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1930.
- Hugo Black: Public Prosecutor, Jefferson County, AL, 1914-1917; KKK member, 1920s; US Senate, 1927-1937; wrote bill that became Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938; Nominated US Supreme Court, 1937; later publicly disavowed the KKK, but not before successfully defending a number of members in murder trials.
- Stanley Reed: Kentucky General Assembly, 1913-1917; Counsel to the Federal Farm Board, 1929-1931; General Counsel, Reconstruction Finance Corporation, 1931-1932; Special Assistant to the US Attorney General, 1935; US Solicitor General, 1935-1938; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1938.
- Felix Frankfurter: Graduated Harvard Law, 1906; Assistant US Attorney for Southern New York, 1907-1910; Bureau of Insular Affairs, US War Department, 1910-1914; Faculty, Harvard Law, 1914-1917; Assistant Secretary of War, 1917-1919; Chairman of War Labor Policies Board, 1919; Faculty, Harvard Law School, 1920-1939; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1939.
- William O. Douglas: Columbia Law, 1925; Faculty, Yale Law, 1929-1936; Securities and Exchange Commission, 1936-1937; SEC Chairman, 1937-1939; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1939; served for 36 years, the longest tenure of any justice.
- James Byrnes: District Attorney, South Carolina Second Circuit, 1908-1910; US House of Representatives, 1910-1925; US Senate, 1930- 1941; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court in 1941; Byrnes decided the gig was not for him, and he resigned after 16 months, to, among other things, save the world, first as Director of the wartime Office of Economic Stabilization and later as Director of the Office of War Mobilization; US Secretary of State, 1945-1947; Governor of South Carolina, 1950-1954.
- Robert H. Jackson: lack of law school didn't hinder Jackson from a twenty-year career in private practice in Western New York; Assistant General Counsel, Internal Revenue Bureau, 1934-1936; Assistant US Attorney General, 1936-1938; US Solicitor General, 1938-1939; US Attorney General, 1939-1941; handled the legal aspects of the Lend-Lease Program, also helping to save world; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1941; Later served as Chief US Prosecutor during the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial (can you imagine Harriet Miers doing that?).
- Harold H. Burton: Graduated Bowdoin, 1909; Harvard Law, 1912; Ohio House of Representatives, 1929-31; Director of Law for the City of Cleveland, Ohio, 1929-1931; Mayor of Cleveland, 1931-1932; Mayor of Cleveland, 1935-1941; US Senate, 1941-1945; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1945.
- Tom C. Clark: U. Texas Law, 1922; Civil District Attorney of Dallas, Texas, 1927-1932; Special Assistant to the US Justice Department, 1937-1943; Assistant US Attorney General, 1943-1945; US Attorney General, 1945-1949; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1949.
- Byron R. White: Rhodes Scholar; US Navy intelligence officer, Pacific Theatre, WW II; Yale Law, 1946; Clerk for US Supreme Court Chief Justice Fred Vinson, 1946-1947; Deputy US Attorney General, 1961-1962; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1962.
- Arthur Goldberg: Northwestern Law, 1930; Specialized in labor law, representing the Chicago Newspaper Guild in their vicious 1938 strike; Chief, Labor Division, Office of Strategic Services, 1941-1945; As counsel the CIO and United Steelworkers, effected their 1955 merger; Secretary of Labor, 1961-1962; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1962; was later appointed US Ambassador to the United Nations to make room for Johnson crony Abe Fortas.
- Abe Fortas: Yale Law, 1933; counsel to the Securities and Exchange Commission, 1934-1939; General Counsel to the Public Works Administration, 1939-1941; Director, Division of Power, US Department of the Interior, 1941-1942; Under Secretary of the Interior, 1942-1945; Opened D.C. corporate law firm in 1946, spent two decades in private practice; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court in 1965, confirmed that year; Nominated Chief Justice, US Supreme Court, 1968, but was filibustered for shady dealings over speaking engagements; Fortas withdrew his name from consideration, and resigned the Supreme Court in 1969.
- Lewis F. Powell: Washington and Lee Law, 1931; President of the American Bar Association, 1964-1965; President of the American College of Trial Lawyers, 1968-1968; President's Commission on Crime, 1966; Nominated Associate Justice of Supreme Court, 1971.
- William Rehnquist: Stanford Law, 1952; Clerked for Robert H. Jackson, 1952-1953; 16 years in private practice in Phoenix, Arizona; Assistant Attorney General, 1969-1971; Nominated Associate Justice US Supreme Court, 1971; Elevated to Chief Justice, 1986.
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So, perusing this list, you can see it's a mixed bag, in many respects: some of the greatest justices in Supreme Court history had not been judges before their nomination to the Court; some of the worst justices in Supreme Court History had not been judges before their nomination to the Court. Some had worked in government before their nominations; some had worked almost exclusively in private practice. Many had served as elected representatives, but many had not.
But aside from maybe old Bushrod Washington and a few others, there haven't been many whose careers prior to the bench have been so second-string.
I know these terms are relative--for example, I work as an adjunct English teacher and sit around in my room all day when I'm not doing that. So far, my chief accomplishment in life is being named "Best Pitcher" for my high school baseball team. But then, I'm not up for the Supreme Court, and, barring some national tragedy of apocalyptic proportions, where there's like a couple dozen people left in the country and I'm one of them, I never will be.
Can't we ask for a little more from a Supreme Court nominee?
And, to all of you out there thinking you've got a moderate on your hands, that "this is already a victory," I wouldn't count on it just yet. Because looking at this list, we're in new territory here--there's never been a SCOTUS nominee get the nod after a career as a blindly loyal political operative (there have been operatives, but never one this closely tied to a sitting president).
The MOQUOL--I Can Save You, America!
NOTE--It's been very helpfully pointed out to me that John Rutledge had prior judicial experience. See comments for details.--Doc