[P]ick someone capable of writing the sort of bold and meaty opinions that will shift the frame of debate and shake up law students for generations.Out of pure self-interest, I'd love that. Teaching constitutional law would be a lot more fun if the cases I make my students read and discuss were pithily written and brimming with brilliant ideas. (Pity the poor conlaw professor, forced to assign the landmark, authoritative cases, whether they are written by fuzzy-headed hacks or a committee of recently graduated law journal editors!)
Brooks promotes Michael McConnell as the kind of person Bush should pick, and ends this way:
Yet presidents often make their Supreme Court picks on the most trivial bases: because so-and-so is a loyalist or a friend, because so-and-so has some politically convenient trait or ties to some temporarily attractive constituency. By thinking too politically, presidents end up reducing their own influence on history.There are two different ideas here -- at least -- and I want to wedge them apart. Presidents should not use trivial, political grounds to select the person who will interpret the law for us all for a generation. That we ought to see as an outrage -- a shocking abuse of power. But "the person with the biggest brain"? I know a lot of big-brained people in law. I'm not sure which one has the biggest brain. Maybe we could sit them in a room and grill them with a series of tests. But there's a damned good chance the person with the biggest brain would be a disaster on the Court. Many of the smartest people lack judgment and character. They may lack feeling for the weaknesses of others and insight into their own weaknesses. And they may arrogantly dismiss what others have to say. The new Justice has to function in a group of nine, after all.
Mr. President, don't repeat the mistakes of the past. Ideas drive history, so you want to pick the person with the biggest brain.
That said, I'd love a super-smart new Justice. But don't just "pick a genius" -- as Brooks says. Pick a real person -- a full human being with a deep understanding of life. (This request might be more likely to bring you to McConnell.)
And could you pick an excellent writer too while you're at it?