In my first post, examining the record of judicial appointments by presidential candidates who served as Governor, I took a look at how Tim Pawlenty shifted the Minnesota Supreme Court to the right. In this post, I will examine the judicial record of former Massachusetts governor and front-runner for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney. Romney’s record of judicial appointments is more complex than Pawlenty’s. His record provides fodder to his critics, who might criticize the selection of several Democrats and Independents to judiciary posts. However, a thorough examination of Romney’s approach to judicial appointments shows that he was committed to integrity of the process, was focused on criminal prosecution, was prudent in his judicial selections, and can be trusted to appoint conservatives to the United States Supreme Court.
Romney Reforms the Process
When Mitt Romney was elected as the 70th governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, he entered office with the unenviable predicament of being a Republican governor, in a state with only 12% of its citizens registered asRepublicans, and having Democrat majorities in both chambers of the Massachusetts legislature. In addition, Romney was faced with the reality that every judicial pick he made as governor would go for approval before the Governor’s Council, where Democrats held 8 of 9 seats. It was going to be extremely difficult for Romney to turn the Massachusetts court system in a more conservative direction.
Romney, who is renowned for his turning around of major companies on the verge of bankruptcy, and for saving the 2002 Olympics, was determined to find some way to bring change to the courts. Romney came up with a partial solution which sought to remove politics from the judicial process completely. He issued an Executive Order reestablishing a Judicial Nominating Commission. The commission would receive resumes of applicants for judicial posts and they would be viewed without certain knowledge of the candidate such as race, sex, or any political leanings. This process, Romney hoped, would result in the selection of the most qualified candidate for the job without regards to any other political or social factor.
Romney’s Judicial Appointments
In 2005, The Boston Globe ran a story on Romney’s judicial appointments. The article stated:
Governor Mitt Romney, who touts his conservative credentials to out-of-state Republicans, has passed over GOP lawyers for three-quarters (75%) of the 36 judicial vacancies he has faced, instead tapping registered Democrats or independents – including two gay lawyers who have supported expanded same-sex rights.
Of the 36 people Romney named to be judges or clerk magistrates, 23 are either registered Democrats or unenrolled voters who have made multiple contributions to Democratic politicians or who voted in Democratic primaries, state and local records show. In all, he has nominated nine registered Republicans, 13 unenrolled voters, and 14 registered Democrats.
This statistic of course provides fodder to Romney’s critics, who might suggest that it would be an indication of the type of judges Romney would appoint as President. Do these statistics indicate favor for Democrat or Independent judges by Romney? Or, do his appointments suggest that Romney was a governor who was pragmatic and tried to make the court system as conservative as he could?
Romney’s own words on the subject might give us more insight into his thinking. Romney defended all of his appointments. He stated that “With regards to those at the district court and clerk magistrate level, their political views aren’t really going to come into play unless their views indicate they will be soft on crime…” Romney stated that his only criteria in picking lower court judges was that they were tough on crime, something he emphasized throughout his time as governor. Romney further elaborated by saying that his criteria would change if an opening were to come on the Massachusetts Supreme Court and then he would focus more on ensuring that the judge had a “strict constructionist, judicial philosophy.”
In addition, Romney’s attempts to turn the Massachusetts courts right can be seen in the appointment of Christopher Moore to chair the Judicial Nominating Commission. Christopher Moore is a conservative who is a member of the Federalist Society, which fights against judicial activism. As chair of the Judicial Nominating Commission, Moore was in an excellent position to ensure he could limit the selection of liberal activist judges who would legislate from the bench.
Romney and the US Supreme Court
Romney has praised the Supreme Court picks of President Bush by saying “President Bush has done a fine job in bringing to the Supreme Court Justice Roberts and Justice Alito.” In addition, Romney described the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, by President Obama, as “troubling.” If taken at his word, these statements would give conservatives a reassuring indication of the types of justices Romney would like sitting on the nation’s high court. In 2004, Romney wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal in which he stated “Beware of activist judges” and reinforced the idea that is the job of the legislatures, not the court system, to pass laws.
In spite of his comments, some of Romney’s critics might say that he has shifted positions because he is running for President. However, there is one major icon in the movement for a conservative judiciary who disagree with these critics. Judge Robert Bork, who was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1987 by President Reagan and rejected by the Senate due to his conservative beliefs, endorsed Romney for President in 2008.
“No other candidate will do more to advance the conservative judicial movement than Governor Mitt Romney … Governor Romney is committed to nominating judges who take their oath of office seriously and respect the rule of law in our nation.” -Judge Robert Bork in his 2008 endorsement of Mitt Romney
If given a fair look, Romney’s record shows a leader who was determined to move the courts in Massachusetts as far to the right as he could. Romney’s focus on appointing justices who were tough on crime should be applauded. His efforts in creating a judicial nominating commission that would give conservatives a fair chance in a state dominated by liberals was a creative way of achieving the best possible results in difficult circumstances. His appointment of conservative Christopher Moore to chair the Judicial Nominating Commission showed that Romney played his biggest cards where they mattered most. Due to his constant criticism of judicial activism, his statements of support for judges such as Samuel Alito and John Roberts should be taken at face value, as his record gives us very little that would counter those claims. If Romney is elected President, conservatives can count on him to appoint Supreme Court justices which will respect the constitution, rather than legislate from the bench.
Do you agree with my opinion that Romney has a solid record of judicial appointments, due to the difficult circumstances he was in? Or, do you think his embracement of a conservative judiciary is a matter of political expediency? Discuss your opinions below.
Lewis, Raphael. “Romney Jurist Picks Not Tilted to GOP.” The Boston Globe 25 Jul. 2005