The Supreme Court, usually an also-ran as a presidential election issue, got some significant attention at Rev. Rick Warren's televised Saddleback Civil Forum on Saturday night. In successive interviews on stage at Warren's Saddleback Church in California, Warren asked both candidates the same questions. His way of getting at the Supreme Court was an interesting one, asking not whom they would appoint to the high court, but rather, which of the current justices they would not have appointed. We've posted a document with the transcript of their remarks.
Sen. Barack Obama's unhesitating answer was Clarence Thomas, because he was not "a strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time." Obama also mentioned Antonin Scalia and John Roberts Jr., praising their intellect but adding that he did not agree with their constitutional views. Roberts, Obama said, was too quick to favor expansion of executive power, which Obama said concerned him even if he becomes a President who could benefit from the expansion.
McCain was just as quick in responding, rattling off the names of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, David Souter, and John Paul Stevens showing impressive recall of the justices' names, which not all candidates and very few average citizens could display. He did not accuse them in connection with any specific decision, but suggested they were among the federal judges who legislate from the bench.
Obama is already catching flak for his appraisal, with comments sent out to reporters by CRC Public Relations, which works for the Federalist Society and other conservative organizations, as well as corporations and other nonprofits. "It was clear last night that Obama’s criteria for selecting Supreme Court Justices are fuzzy, lack intellectual coherence, and are subject to his own whims," said Wendy Long, a former Thomas clerk and counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network. Said former Reagan Justice Department official Chuck Cooper, "Obama's comments at the Saddleback Forum denouncing the appointment of Justices Scalia and Thomas makes even clearer that principles of judicial restraint will have no place in an Obama Administration and that he will seek to impose his liberal social agenda on the American people through the appointment of crusading activist judges."