RN with Warren BurgerRN congratulating Warren E. Burger on his official appointment as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

By Chris Barber

In the course of a single term, the President will make hundreds if not thousands of appointments to various government positions. Of those appointments, the President will from time to time be required to make the most important of them all-those to the Supreme Court of the United States.

In his first term, President Nixon faced an unprecedented task in filling the vacancies of four Supreme Court seats. It was an opportune time for the President to appoint those he saw fit to protect Constitutional law. His philosophy for Supreme Court appointees was far from the philosophy of the politically active appointees in the 1960s. To the Supreme Court of this era, he judged:

Like many legal and political moderate conservatives, I felt that some Supreme Court Justices were too often using their interpretation of the law to remake American society according to their own social, political, and ideological precepts.
RN, The Memoirs of Richard Nixon

Many were quick to presume President Nixon an opportunist, accusing him of using his power of judicial appointments to plant judges of ultra-conservative ideologies. The media and opposition political leaders alike charged him with attempting to create a “Nixon Court.” However, this was not the case. Yes, President Nixon held a preferred judicial philosophy, but it was one of reason, not partisan intrigue. In an announcement to the nation on his final two Supreme Court appointees, RN defended his appointments of the past two years.

I believe that Chief Justice Warren and Mr. Justice Blackmun, by their conduct and their decisions, have earned the respect not only of those who supported them when I nominated them, but also those who opposed them.

It is my firm conviction tonight that Lewis Powell and William Rehnquist will earn the same respect, and that as guardians of our Constitution, they will dedicate their lives to the great goal of building respect for law and order and justice throughout this great land of ours.

View the full press release below, dated October 21, 1971.

Adhering to a conservative and strict Constitutional philosophy, the President sought highly qualified candidates to resonate the same. But to share the same judicial philosophy did not mean that the Supreme Court Justices had to agree with the President on every issue.

It would be a total repudiation of our constitutional system if Judges on the Supreme Court, or any other Federal court, for that matter, were like puppets on a string pulled by the President who appointed them…As far as judicial philosophy is concerned, it is my belief that it is the duty of a Judge to interpret the Constitution and not to place himself above the Constitution or outside the Constitution.

President Nixon goes on to explain his judicial philosophy in more detail, indicating a prevalent imbalance between the rights of society and the rights of defendants accused of crimes against society that currently existed in the courts. He wanted to maintain the delicate balance between the two, and to do this meant appointing individuals of excellence and of the principles that displayed strict Constitutional merits.

In his memoirs, RN reflects on his four appointments to the Supreme Court:

I consider my four appointments to the Supreme Court to have been among the most constructive and far-reaching actions of my presidency. Some critics have characterized my appointments as an effort to create a “Nixon Court.” It is true that the men I appointed shared my conservative judicial philosophy and significantly affected the balances of power that had developed in the Warren Court. But as individuals they were each dedicated and able constitutional lawyers who often disagreed on major cases. When I appointed them, I told each that I would never try to influence his judgement and that his only loyalty should be to the law and not to me. Their decisions in cases that affected my politically or personally reflected the fact that they accepted my admonition.