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Mickey Edwards
Political leader

Mickey Edwards

Former U.S. Congressman, Mickey Edwards is vice president of the Aspen Institute, where he directs the Institute's Rodel Fellowships in Public Leadership.

Law First, Leadership Second

Leadership in a legislative or executive position is one thing; leadership on a court of law, with its more narrowly defined mission, is something quite different. There is no question that various skills -- persuasion, bridging differences, forging compromises -- can be important tools even on the bench. That's one reason Earl Warren played such an important role as Chief Justice: He brought into the court the abilities he developed and honed in politics. It's interesting, therefore, that Barack Obama seems to have on his short list only judges or legal academics: Some of the most important members of the court have come out of the political, rather than the legal, community.

Then there is the matter of whether "leadership" is the right quality to be seeking? Clearly, leadership was important in forging the Brown decision. Clearly leadership has been important to Sandra Day O'connor's contributions to the court (interestingly, she, too, began her career in politics). But the single most important job of a jurist is to see that the law is properly applied. Leadership in creating law, shaping society, etc., is a function of the political branches, not the courts. (That is because the people, through the election process, are able to maintain control over their society -- a basic premise of American government -- through their representatives). the court steps in to resolve differences over what the constitution, or laws consistent with the constitution, require.

Bottom line: The first and most important quality is an unbiased commitment to application of the law, regardless of one's own preferences as to outcome. Once that basic requirement is met, it would be an added and important additional advantage if the nominee were to possess sufficient political skills to help the court avoid the kind of narrowly-divided opinions that undermine acceptance of the court's decisions.

By Mickey Edwards

 |  May 18, 2009; 12:59 PM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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