Truman's judicial appointees

+ More

Prof. Bill Stuntz of Harvard Law School, who prompted my thoughts on the similarities between Harry Truman and George W. Bush, passes along the following reminiscence by Second Circuit Judge Jose Cabranes. I have met Judge Cabranes and found him to be a bright and delightful person. He has been mentioned occasionally as a Democrat that Bush might appoint to the Supreme Court. This comes from an E-mail to Professor Stuntz by Judge Cabranes and is reprinted with their permission:

Of Truman's famous cohort of appointments to the Supreme Court, you write: "All but Clark were buddies from Truman's Capitol Hill days . . . ." True, in the sense that Clark did not himself serve in Congress. But he was a "buddy" of HST's from his Capitol Hill days in another sense. I spent a morning walking around Philadelphia with Retired Justice Tom Clark in 1976, during the Bicentennial Conference on the Constitution of the U.S. sponsored by the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences. We talked about a lot of things, including how he came to know HST. He told me the following story: He was an Assistant Attorney General during the war, and was in Kansas City on business. At the airport he met HST for the first time. He observed that HST, though a Senator of growing importance because of the "Truman Committee," could not catch a flight back to Washington because of space limitations. Clark's travel "priority" was higher than Truman's (a fact that amazed Clark then, and in 1976), and Clark gave up his seat for HST. Truman was effusively grateful to him. Clark in 1976 firmly believed that that encounter was the basis of his later relationship with HST, who elevated him in due course to the position of Attorney General and later, of course, to the Court.

This is the sort of first-hand story that an American history "junkie" like me treasures. It did not surprise me that later in the day, at a panel discussion on appointments to the Supreme Court, Justice Clark nodded in agreement when I dissented from the strongly articulated view of Prof. Henry J. Abraham of the University of Virginia that the "only" criterion for an appointment to the Court was "merit," and I listed a number of other political considerations that had always been regarded as eminently appropriate considerations, including region, political affinity or connection, religion, ethnic identity, etc. (Another sympathetic gesture came from Judge Henry J. Friendly–who, of course, would know that I was right, since if the "only" criterion for appointment were "merit," he surely would have been on the Court!)

I have always thought that the success of some political figures, otherwise hard to explain, was due to the fact that they were just plain nice guys. This incident could be cited as evidence for that proposition.