Tony Mauro at the National Law Journal has another piece up from his digging through the Potter Stewart papers, this time on the Justice’s friendships with President George H.W. Bush and Professor Larry Tribe, and their thoughts about what could have been.
Stewart died in 1986, so he never saw his friend George make it to the White House in 1989 – but Mauro finds that he did follow his friend’s 1980 Presidential run and VP nomination quite closely:
Stewart clearly had a keen interest in Bush’s electoral fortunes, collecting news clippings about Bush testing the waters for a 1980 run for the presidency, which turned into a campaign for vice president with Ronald Reagan at the top of the ticket. Stewart corresponded with Christopher Phillips, apparently a strategist who was urging Bush to stress his moderate views and not give in to pressure from the right that was fueling Reagan’s success. “My great fear is that even if the views stated in your memorandum are fully understood and completely accepted, the house may be irreparably late,” Stewart wrote. Stewart even shared his views with Powell, who wrote Stewart, “These are views you and I have shared. It may indeed be too late now.”
Indeed, for the Court, it was too late. Under Reagan, Stewart and Powell’s moderate conservatism–political and jurisprudential–began its decline towards today’s near-extinction.
And from Stewart’s “Tribe” file:
In May 1969, after Nixon appointed Warren Burger as chief justice, Tribe wrote a letter to Stewart mourning the demise of a shared hope: that Stewart would be elevated to the position instead. “I had so hoped things would turn out differently,” Tribe wrote. “For you — and for the country — I am sorry.” Stewart’s reply note did not deny the ambition.
This note from Tribe seems at odds with The Brethren‘s prologue (see pp. 10-13), in which Woodward and Armstrong write that Stewart declined President Nixon’s overtures to elevate Stewart to Chief Justice. Perhaps Stewart, now known as a significant source for The Brethren, fed Woodward and Armstrong this story for pride’s sake. Perhaps Tribe did not know about this meeting. Or perhaps Tribe was lamenting the underlying reasons why Stewart felt compelled to decline the President’s offer – “why”s that may have been lost forever in the fires Tribe told me about at the Kagan hearings and reiterated to Mauro:
Laurence Tribe remembers watching Potter Stewart, the U.S. Supreme Court justice for whom he clerked in 1967, feed his office fireplace around Christmas time.
Stewart was burning some of his Court papers, recalls Tribe, the Harvard law professor and now senior counselor at the Justice Department. “He told me that it was an annual affair.”
What papers did Stewart destroy that year? “I promised him I’d remain forever silent, and it’s a promise I feel bound to keep,” Tribe said.
Read the whole piece over at Law.com.