Yesterday, our country and judicial system lost an icon — a brilliant, feisty, outspoken, cantankerous, strong-willed, devoutly-Catholic, Italian-American: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. As the Washington Establishment launches a bruising, divisive, and potentially multi-year process to fill his seat, I offer a modest proposal to replace him: a gentleman with all of the same above Scalian qualities, whose appointment and confirmation could help heal our polarized and paralyzed politics:
John Calipari for the Supreme Court.
I know what you are thinking:
Jonathan, you’ve lost it. Your Big Blue Blindness has sent you on a ridiculous path for perhaps the nation’s most important decision. Replacing Scalia could lurch the Court in a new direction, altering the trajectory of American public policy. And you suggest a basketball coach?
I get you. But hear me out. There are several persuasive reasons why a Calipari nomination makes perfect sense, both for President Barack Obama, as well as for our broken political system:
1. John Calipari may be the only Obama nomination that could actually get confirmed by the Senate.
Within a few minutes of the official pronouncement of Nino’s passing, U.S. Senate Majority Leader (and my BFF) Mitch McConnell declared that no Obama Supreme appointment would be considered by the Senate: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” At last night’s GOP presidential debate, the six remaining contestants piled on: All agreed (even McConnell-hater Ted Cruz) that the Senate should defer its constitutional duty to advise and consent on judicial nominations until 2017.
But let’s suppose that hoops-afficiando Obama hears me out and puts up Coach Cal for consideration. Do you really think that Leader McConnell would filibuster the most popular man in his home state? Mitch is the savviest political mind in our state’s modern history — and for good reason, he’s been quite sensitive to criticism that he is first and foremost a Louisville Cardinal fan. Indeed, the Ã¼ber-disciplined Senator lost his patented cool — and experienced his most painful re-election campaign moment — when KSR’s Matt Jones grilled him on his hoops loyalties.
Also consider Cal’s pals, coal-magnate Joe Craft and fundraiser-extraordinaire Kelly Knight. There are no two individuals more respected and influential in national Republican circles than the GOP Kentucky power couple. With Obama convincing Democrats, and Joe and Kelly working the other side of the aisle, Calipari’s confirmation would be — shall I say it? — a slam dunk.
2. John Calipari’s lack of political or judicial record could win him bipartisan support.
When the confirmation process commences, you will hear much wailing and caterwauling about principles such as “original intent,” “strict construction,” “temperament,” and “judicial restraint.”
With the current Court already a reflection of our partisan polity and electorate, both Democrats and Republicans will be looking exclusively for a nominee who agrees with them on all of their hot-button issues.
Take abortion for example: With the decision in Roe v. Wade eternally precarious, nearly every Democratic Senator will insist Scalia’s replacement be pro-choice, while nearly every Republican Senator will demand a pro-life jurist. During congressional hearings, the nominees will dodge and weave, claiming that they don’t want to pre-judge cases that might appear before the Court. But ever since George H. W. Bush nominated the stealth-moderate David Souter, Presidents have selected candidates that they knew would be on their ideological team.
What’s Cal’s position on abortion? Marriage equality? The Second Amendment? Affirmative action?
Who knows? After extensive research, I couldn’t identify any of his policy preferences. (OK, I googled “Calipari Abortion” and up popped up a bunch of stories on the 2012 Pitino scandal.)
So imagine Calipari’s Senate confirmation hearings. Instead of the insincere soliloquies and political positioning and pandering, we might actually see a productive dialogue about the future of the federal judiciary. (And if anyone gets carried away, Cal might run after them like he did the refs at South Carolina on Saturday. After all, nothing would be more in spirit with the angry mood of our Trump-ian nation.)
3. John Calipari represents the diversity that the Supreme Court desperately needs.
Certainly, the ball coach’s lack of a law degree poses a political challenge for Supreme consideration. But not a constitutional one. There is no requirement for a Supreme Court justice to be a lawyer or even to have a law school degree. As recently as 1941, James Byrnes joined the Court without a high school diploma.
Indeed, Cal’s every-man background presents a significant asset and opportunity, helping return the Supreme Court back to an institution grounded in common sense. Today’s Court is filled completely by former judges, with backgrounds in academia or appellate litigation. All of them either attended that snobby law school in Boston, or that hall of disrepute in New Haven. Some of the high court’s greatest jurists had real jobs (sort-of): Earl Warren was a Governor; Salmon Chase, a businessman; and Byron “Whizzer” White was an NFL halfback.
The lack of real-world experience has colored some of the Court’s most uninspired recent decisions. Take the infamous Citizens’ United case that has resulted in new floods of dark money debauching our political campaign system. Would a jurist who hadn’t lived his life on a bench or in an ivory tower really conclude that money doesn’t corrupt politics?
4. John Calipari might turn out to be a damn good jurist.
While he’s never been a judge, there are few public figures who’ve endured more scrutiny over the past few decades than Cal. He knows what it’s like to be the target of intensive investigation, to have his motives constantly second-guessed, to be on trial 24/7 by both his critics and his outrageous-expectation-ed fan base. When dispensing justice, then, who would be better positioned to put himself in the shoes of the vulnerable criminal Death Row defendants, embattled small businesses, and struggling minority voices that appear before him?
And then take the singular issue that has most vexed the Court (and the nation) over the past half century: race. While the nation transitions from Birmingham and Selma to Ferguson and Baltimore, from KKK lynchings to police/citizen conflicts, who better to serve as the tie-breaking judicial peacemaker than someone who has spent the better part of his career teaching, training, empowering and enriching low-income, inner-city, African-American youth?
As I’ve argued often on these virtual pages, there’s been no force more powerful for racial fence-mending in this Commonwealth than Kentucky basketball. A Justice John Calipari could provide the deciding vote for tolerance, unity, and, yes, justice.
Calipari for the Supreme Court!
(And if he demurs, there’s always another brilliant, feisty, outspoken, cantankerous, strong-willed, devoutly-Catholic, Italian-American Kentucky-based coach who might be looking for another job soon anyway…)