When John Roberts Jr. was 37, serving as a top lawyer in the U.S. Justice Department’s solicitor general’s office in 1992, then-President George H.W. Bush nominated him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Roberts just a few years earlier had made his first argument in the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case United States v. Halper. He won that case, but he would not win confirmation to the appeals court. Roberts would have been among the youngest circuit nominees in history.
Roberts would have to wait more than a decade later for another D.C. Circuit appointment, which came in 2003 by George W. Bush, the son of the former president. Roberts was, of course, confirmed—and soon elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Saturday, Roberts issued a statement paying tribute to Bush: “I am saddened to learn of the passing of President George H. W. Bush. He was an extraordinary American patriot and fundamentally decent man. I extend my heartfelt condolences to the Bush family.”
George H.W. Bush’s judicial legacy at the Supreme Court—back in focus now, on the former president’s death Friday at age 94—rests in the service of Justice Clarence Thomas and the retired Justice David Souter. The two, of course, are markedly different, and only one is still serving.
Souter, nominated in 1990 to replace William Brennan Jr., is approaching nearly 10 years off the high court bench, but he still hears cases in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Conservatives often lament the fact Souter, confirmed 90 to 9 in the Senate, turned out to be more liberal than desired. The mantra “No More Souters” is still heard in conservative circles.
Souter said in a statement Saturday: “The president was a gentleman who showed me great kindness, and for as long as memory serves I’ll think back on him kindly and gratefully in return.”
Bush came under criticism when he described Thomas as “the most qualified” candidate for the Supreme Court when he nominated him to succeed Thurgood Marshall in 1991. But Thomas, confirmed by a narrow margin amid claims of sexual harassment—which he denied—has been a steadfast and popular conservative during his entire tenure on the high court.
“It is with deep and profound sadness that Virginia and I learned of the passing of President Bush,” Thomas said in a statement Saturday. “I was honored to be nominated by him to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and the Supreme Court of the United States. Both he and Mrs. Bush were the essence of decency and kindness then and throughout the years. Virginia and I extend our thoughts and prayers to the entire Bush family.”
The senior Bush appointed Samuel Alito Jr. to the Third Circuit in 1990, and he would be elevated to the Supreme Court in 2006 by George W. Bush.
Many George H.W. Bush appointees still serve either actively or through senior status across the judiciary.
Among them: judges Karen LeCraft Henderson and A. Raymond Randolph serve on the D.C. Circuit; judges Ed Carnes, Susan Black and Joel Dubina on the Eleventh Circuit; Judge Ilana Rovner on the Seventh Circuit; judges Ferdinand Fernandez and Andrew Kleinfeld on the Ninth Circuit; Jane Roth on the Third Circuit; judges John Walker Jr. and Dennis Jacobs on the Second Circuit; Judge Paul Niemeyer on the Fourth Circuit; and judges Jacques Wiener Jr. and Rhesa Barksdale on the Fifth Circuit.
The Supreme Court said Sunday it will close Wednesday in honor of the national day of mourning for George H.W. Bush. The court has rescheduled Wednesday’s argument—Gamble v. United States—to Thursday.