Chief Justice Clarence Thomas?


President Bush has launched an internal review of the pros and cons of nominating Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as the chief justice if ailing William Rehnquist retires, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned. A top White House source familiar with Bush’s thinking explains the review of Thomas as chief justice is one of several options currently under serious consideration. But Thomas is Bush’s personal favorite to take the position, the source claims. “It would not only be historic, to nominate a minority as chief justice, symbolizing the president’s strong belief in hope and optimism, but it would be a sound judicial move…. Justice Thomas simply has an extraordinary record.”

This one has been floating around for months. While hardly conciliatory, it strikes me as a good move. It makes sense to have a Chief Justice whose judicial philosophy is established rather than one who, because of the post-Bork climate in the Senate, will have the be a stealth candidate with very little in the way of a paper trail. While Thomas is controversial, he’s already on the Court for life, so elevating him to the Chief’s job would not have a huge downside for Democrats, who would be reluctant to oppose such a historic move.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. BigFire says:

    As far as I can tell, ’bout only difference between Chief Justice and the other Justices are in the amount of additional paperwork Chief Justice gets.

  2. KipEsquire says:

    If Chief Justice Rehnquist is the first to leave, then do not be surprised if Bush looks beyond the Court rather than try to nominate Thomas or another Associate Justice. The reason? One confirmation process instead of two. Even a sitting Associate Justice has to be confirmed by the Senate before becoming Chief Justice. So first would come that confirmation, then another confirmation to fill the corresponding Associate Justice position. Why should Bush squander his “capital” that way?

  3. James Joyner says:

    Actually, the Chief is pretty important in that he gets to assign the justice who writes the opinion on a given case if he’s in the majority. That’s pretty substantial. The Chief also votes last and can be strategic about which side he supports to that end.

  4. Mark says:

    I think the CJ is also the de-facto administrator of the federal court system, isn’t he? Perhaps we should read Volokh for some insight…

  5. carpeicthus says:

    Your argument seems to be that we should have Thomas as chief justice instead of some random guy. Um, sure, but that’s not his competition — his competition is the other memebrs of the court, and except for being young and reactionary, he’s the least qualified. Why not, say, Anthony Kennedy, who is a Republican judge — and becoming moresp, at least in abortion jurisprudence — but who wouldn’t continue the extreme polarization of the country?