Some Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings Would Make Great Pay-Per-View TV

This oversized photograph of the U.S. Supreme Court, circa 1984, is signed by all nine justices, including Lewis F. Powell Jr. It realized $4,481.25 at an April 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

When Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. unexpectedly announced his retirement in June 1987, no commentator failed to emphasize the implications for the future of the Supreme Court. The New York Times stated the obvious: “Powell’s resignation gives President Reagan a historic opportunity to shape the future of the Court.” Justice Powell had played a pivotal role as the tie-breaking vote on controversial issues such as abortion, affirmative action and separation of church and state.

Yet Powell was not merely a simple tie-breaker. Since he frequently swayed the court’s decision from one ideological camp to another by virtue of his swing vote, he was viewed as mainstream. As a result, President Reagan attempted to portray Powell’s replacement, Robert Bork, as neither conservative nor liberal, stressing his “evenhanded and open-minded approach to the law.”

The president’s lack of success was immediately evident when Senator Edward Kennedy – only 45 minutes after Bork’s appointment – fired the opening salvo against Bork’s record on abortion, civil rights and criminal justice. Kennedy declared, “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would be forced to sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue policemen could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, and artists could be censured at the whim of government.”

Once Kennedy unleashed these polemics, there was no turning back. Southern Senators were intimidated by the possible loss of black voters and liberals in the Senate were eager for a good fight after eight years of frustrating losses to conservatives.

Despite being confirmed unanimously for the U.S. Court of Appeals, Judge Bork was stepping into a veritable political hornets’ nest and he was the wrong person in the wrong spot at the wrong time! His copious scholarly writings – an asset in academia – and his lucidly crafted, elegantly penned opinions on the appellate bench were red meat in the hands of hostile interest groups.

Bork with President Ronald Reagan in 1987.

Moreover, Bork’s personal appearance and demeanor seemed as suspect as his ideology. His devilish beard and turgid academic discourses did not endure him to the public or wavering Senators. His detailed, scholarly, lecture-like answers to every single question would be considered naive today … where nominees are well versed in the art of non-answers to tough questions, and grilled by “murder boards” designed to prepare careful answers to virtually everything the nominee has written or spoken since puberty. Today’s Google/Facebook generation of staffers can unearth obscure facts that might be even slightly contentious.

Judge Bork’s nomination was rejected by a resounding 42-58 vote. After being transfixed by the riveting testimony, I personally believe that even if Judge Bork were given another try today (he died in 2012), the outcome would be similar. He had such a high regard of his superior legal acumen and was so openly dismissive of the twits on the Senate Judiciary, it would be another verbal combat that would end just as badly.

It would be a perfect scenario for a pay-for-view cable TV spectacle, especially for Supreme Court nerds like moi.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Supreme Court Appointments Are Always Soap Operas, with Gavel-to-Gavel Coverage

This Rehnquist Supreme Court photograph, circa 1989, is signed by all nine justices, including Antonin Scalia and William H. Rehnquist. It realized $1,171.25 at an April 2015 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On June 17, 1986 – to the surprise of his colleagues, the public and President Reagan – Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Warren Burger submitted his resignation. After 17 years as head of the U.S. federal court system and within months of his 79th birthday, Burger wanted to devote all of his time to organizing ceremonies for the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution in 1987.

Almost immediately, President Reagan announced his choice for Burger’s replacement: sitting Associate Justice William H. Rehnquist. Judge Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C., was selected to fill the vacant position. The Burger court had been surprisingly active in civil rights and President Reagan resolved to fill the vacancies with conservative, strict constitutionalists.

Rehnquist certainly met these criteria, as his 14-plus years on the bench validated. He made that abundantly clear during his confirmation hearings that opened July 30, 1986, by telling the Judiciary Committee they should not expect any change in his jurisprudence. His years on the court were on the record.

His primary opponent, Senator Edward Kennedy, acknowledged this, but also assailed the chief justice nominee in harsh terms, thundering, “By his own record, he is too extreme on race, on women’s rights, separation of church and state, and too extreme to be chief justice.” Kennedy’s assertions set the tone for two weeks of stormy testimony. No one dared to dispute Rehnquist’s powerful intellect or keen understanding of the law. He was just “out of the mainstream” – a standard ploy for any opposition.

After three months of divisive, acrimonious debate in the full Senate, he was confirmed 65-33. The 33 nays were the most votes ever cast against a nominee who won confirmation. Charles Evans Hughes prevailed in 1930 after a vote of 52-26, the previous record.

Scalia had a much easier time, perhaps because the partisan vitriol was exhausted on Rehnquist. The New Republic had earlier written, “A Scalia nomination makes political sense.” And a White House official had exclaimed, “What a political symbol! Nino would be the first Italian-Catholic on the court. He has nine children and everyone likes him. He’s a brilliant conservative. What more do you want?” Moreover, the 50-year-old Scalia was 10 years younger than the other possible candidate, Judge Robert Bork.

Even ideological foes were hard-pressed to challenge Scalia’s meritorious credentials. A product of New York public schools, he tied for first at Xavier High School, graduated at Georgetown University as valedictorian summa cum laude, and at Harvard Law was editor of the law review and a postgraduate fellow. This was followed by the law faculty at University of Virginia and appointments at Georgetown Law, the American Enterprise Institute, Stanford Law, and the University of Chicago Law School.

He sailed through the Judiciary Committee 18-0 and the full Senate 98-0. He served on the Supreme Court until his death last year. Strict constitutional conservatives are still in mourning over his loss.

The upcoming hearing on March 20 is designed to select his replacement. We will all have a ringside seat at what promises to be another Supreme Court soap opera, with gavel-to-gavel TV coverage ad nauseam.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Reagan Made History with Appointment of O’Connor to Supreme Court

An Annie Leibovitz photograph of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (left) and Sandra Day O’Connor, dated 1997 and signed by the photographer, realized $1,750 at a February 2017 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Ronald Wilson Reagan won two presidential elections, both by overwhelming margins. In 1980, he took 44 states with an electoral vote total of 489. Four years later, he crushed Walter Mondale, winning 49 states and 525 electoral votes (the all-time record).

The Reagan agenda included an attempt to alter the contemporary jurisprudential approach to the federal judiciary; he quickly made it known he would return to traditional criteria in selecting jurists. As a candidate, he made it crystal clear he was opposed to any type of racial or other quotas.

During the 1980 presidential campaign, candidate Reagan had promised “one of the first Supreme Court vacancies in my administration will be filled by the most qualified woman I can find, one who meets the high standards I will demand for all my appointments.” The opportunity to fulfill this pledge came within the first six months of his presidency.

On June 18, 1981, in what appeared to be a major surprise, Associate Justice Potter Stewart publicly announced his retirement from the Supreme Court, effective at the close of the 1980-81 term in July. However, members of the administration had actually known three months earlier and had informed the president (while he was still recovering from the assassination attempt). This gave the administration three months to search quietly for a nominee without outside pressure and feverish media speculation.

On June 25, Attorney General William French Smith gave the president a list of 25 names – approximately half of them women – clearly a new record in this regard. Among the women were Arizona Court of Appeals Judge Sandra Day O’Connor; Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court Mary Coleman; and Judge Amalya L. Kearse of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, a youthful black Carter appointee. On July 1, O’Connor and two other candidates met with the president and she quickly reminded him they had met 10 years before when he was governor of California and she was a member of the Arizona State Senate.

In addition to the successful interview, there was the Stanford connection: U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist graduated from Stanford Law School in the same class as O’Connor. When Senator Barry Goldwater urged her selection, that was enough to clinch it.

The only strong dissent came from the New Right, including the Reverend Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority, who encouraged all “good Christians” to express concern. Goldwater’s characteristically frank retort was “Every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass!”

On Sept. 15, 1981, the Senate Judicatory Committee approved Judge O’Connor 17-0 and six days later, the full Senate voted 99-0 to confirm (Senator Max Baucus of Montana – a strong supporter – was out of town for the vote).

So history had been made!

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Coolidge Focused on Creating Conditions Under Which Everyone Could Succeed

This rare “KEEP COOL-IDGE” campaign button, 1924, sold for $2,250 in February 2015.

By Jim O’Neal

The Republican Party’s 1924 presidential convention in Cleveland was the first to be broadcast on radio. Incumbent President Calvin Coolidge was a cinch to win the nomination as the nation was at peace, the country prosperous and the integrity of the executive branch restored after the Warren G. Harding scandals. “Keep Cool With Coolidge” captured the mood of the country and Democrats were so divided it took 103 ballots before they picked John Davis of West Virginia (“The Disaster in Madison Square Garden”).

The only real surprise was the selection of the Republican vice president candidate. Coolidge favored Senator William Borah of Idaho, who declined. On the second ballot, they nominated Governor Frank Lowden of Illinois, but he stunned everyone by refusing just as delegates were making the vote unanimous. Finally, Charles Dawes was nominated and he accepted. He would win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925 for his work on World War I reparations and is the only vice president to be credited with a No. 1 pop song (“It’s All in the Game,” 1958, performed by Tommy Edwards).

President Coolidge’s inaugural address in March 1925 was a ringing endorsement of his policies: encourage business and reduce taxes. “Economic legislation is not to destroy those who have already secured success, but to create conditions under which everyone will have a better chance to be successful.”

On Aug. 2, 1927, Coolidge surprised the nation with a terse announcement of his intent to retire. “I do not choose to run for president in 1928.” He explained his reelection would extend his presidency to 10 years … longer than anyone before … and too long in his opinion.

Some observers have speculated that he turned down reelection due to health concerns. Mrs. Coolidge claimed he told her that the next four years may have required greater federal spending … something he was too frugal philosophically to support. Others believe Coolidge retired because he sensed the coming economic crash and got out before his reputation for fostering prosperity was tarnished.

“You hear a lot of jokes about ‘Silent Cal Coolidge.’ The joke is on the people who make the jokes. Look at his record. He cut taxes four times and we probably had the greatest growth and prosperity we’ve ever known. I have taken heed of that because if he did that by doing nothing, maybe that’s the answer.” – President Ronald Reagan

Amen.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Ford Viewed his Legacy as Rebuilding Confidence in the Presidency

gerald-ford-presidential-seal-hooked-rug
Gerald Ford’s Presidential Seal hooked rug, used in his home office in Rancho Mirage, Calif., sold for $13,145 at a December 2012 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Public opinion polls as early as 1975 indicated that President Gerald Ford would be unlikely to win the Republican nomination for president in 1976. The main competition came from the conservative former governor of California, Ronald Reagan. However, Ford was determined to campaign hard and plunged into an aggressive schedule.

The mass demonstrations at the White House had finally started to wind down, although there was another incident in March 1975. Sixty-two protesters entered the grounds on the regular daily tour and then refused to leave, saying the U.S. should end involvement in the Indochina war and liberate the 200,000 political prisoners in South Vietnam. President Ford’s amnesty offer to those who had avoided the draft expired on March 1, and the protesters also demanded amnesty for “anyone who had resisted the war.” Most were booked and released from jail.

As the president started his campaign trip West, there were some nasty surprises lurking in Northern California. On Sept. 5, 27-year-old Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, a cult follower of convicted mass murderer Charles Manson, pulled a partially loaded Colt-45 and fired it at Ford when he was two feet away. There was no bullet in the firing chamber and an alert Secret Service agent grabbed the gun before it could be fired again.

Three weeks later, as Ford left his San Francisco hotel (the St. Francis), 45-year-old Sara Jane Moore, a civil-rights activist, fired a 38-caliber revolver at him, but missed. A bystander prevented her from taking a second shot. Both women were convicted and given life sentences. Subsequently, both were released under a federal law that allows parole after 30 years, although “Squeaky” served two extra years for a prison escape/recapture.

gerald-ford
President Ford

At the GOP convention in Kansas City, Ford narrowly won the nomination on Aug. 19 with 1,187 votes to Reagan’s 1,070. He chose Bob Dole for his running mate. The Democrats picked Jimmy Carter and once again the opinion polls showed that the president was far less popular than the Georgia peanut farmer.

Ford challenged Carter to a series of televised debates – the first time an incumbent president debated an opponent. Ford also campaigned hard and nearly caught Carter, but in the November election he became the first sitting president to be defeated since Herbert Hoover in 1932.

In his final State of the Union address to Congress on Jan. 12, 1977, Ford said, “I am proud of the part I have played in rebuilding confidence in the presidency, confidence in our free system and confidence in our future. Once again, Americans believe in themselves, believe in their leaders, and in the promise that tomorrow holds for their children.”

Amen.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Reagan’s Last Christmas in Office Marked by Memorable Snowy Fairyland

1980s-ronald-reagan-win-one-for-the-gipper-signed-photograph
A photograph signed by Ronald Reagan with the inscription “Win one for the Gipper” sold for $8,365 at a November 2014 Heritage auction. It’s considered the most famous line Reagan spoke on the silver screen, in 1940’s Knute Rockne, All American.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1980, Ronald Wilson Reagan became the oldest man (69) to be elected president. He extended his record in 1984 when he was reelected at age 73. For their last Christmas in the White House, the Reagans wanted to make a splash. The East Room was transformed into a snowy fairyland, with full-size trees and a gift-filled sleigh occupied by carolers and drawn by lifelike horses, all powdered with glittery “snow.” It was a vintage Hollywood image.

Thousands of visitors filed by and looked on in both delight and amazement at the dazzling scene. Nothing remotely like this had ever been seen in the White House. It was a playful farewell by two whose roots were as firmly planted in Hollywood as John F. Kennedy’s were in Boston or Lyndon B. Johnson’s on the banks of the Pedernales River.

On his final day in office, Jan. 20, 1989, President Reagan went to the Oval Office early and met with his Chief-of-Staff Ken Duberstein and General Colin Powell, the National Security Advisor. Both of them said reassuringly, “Mr. President, the world is quiet today.” After they left, Reagan also left the office, stopping at the door for one last look. George and Barbara Bush were arriving in the entrance hall below.

On the route from the Capitol to the White House, the incoming President George H.W. Bush and first lady took a cue from the Carters, leaving their car from time to time to walk along Pennsylvania Avenue to greet the crowds. They walked up the driveway on the same path all their predecessors had followed since James Monroe’s second term, 168 years before.

History linked the inauguration of George H.W. Bush and George Washington. It had been exactly 200 years since the first president began serving his first term.

President Bush had an extensive background that included two terms in Congress, ambassador to the United Nations, director of the CIA, liaison to China, and eight full years as vice president. He had easily defeated Michael Dukakis to win the presidency, but in the process famously declared “Read my lips. No new taxes!” – words that would haunt him.

Although favored for reelection in 1992, he got caught in a buzz saw when third-party candidate Ross Perot siphoned off nearly 19 percent of the popular vote and a young governor from Arkansas won with a plurality of 43 percent. William Jefferson Clinton and Al Gore Jr. became the youngest president and vice president in history.

George H.W. Bush became the 10th incumbent president to lose in a bid for reelection after becoming the first sitting vice president to be elected president since Martin Van Buren in 1836.

The strange world of presidential politics. We love it.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

 

The Highs, the Lows, the Record-Breakers of Professional Sports

signed-1940-play-ball-grover-cleveland-alexander-119
This signed 1940 Playball Grover Cleveland Alexander #119 SGC Authentic will be auctioned by Heritage Auctions on Nov. 17.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1949, police in Hollywood, Calif., discovered what appeared to be just another drunk unconscious in an alley. Upon further investigation, it turned out to be Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander (nicknamed “Ol’ Pete” for reasons unknown).

Despite a lifelong battle with epilepsy and alcoholism, he managed to win 373 games. (Ronald Reagan portrayed him in the 1952 film The Winning Team with Doris Day. The movie was widely panned.)

Alexander still holds the National League record of 90 shutouts, but he couldn’t shut out the booze and died the next year at age 63, penniless and homeless.

1979-80-larry-bird-game-worn-boston-celtics-rookie-uniform
Larry Bird’s game-worn 1979-80 Boston Celtics rookie uniform sold for $22,705 in July 2014.

Larry Joe Bird was a member of the 1992 U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team (The Dream Team) that won gold in Barcelona.

Bird was voted to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1996 and inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998.

Not bad for a kid from French Lick, Ind., who was drafted into the NBA sixth overall by the Boston Celtics, where he was a 12-time NBA All Star.

He is the only player in NBA history to be named MVP, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year (he ran out of categories, apparently).

The first post-1900, modern-day pitcher to strike out 18 batters in a single game was Bob Feller.

Tom Cheney holds the all-time record of 21 strikeouts (1962), but it was a 16-inning game.

Perhaps more impressive are the 20 strikeouts in nine innings by Kerry Wood (1998) and Randy Johnson in 2001, something that Roger Clemens did twice … in 1986 and again in 1996.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

 

Iran-Contra Affair Exposed a Reality of Reagan Administration

President Ronald Reagan autographed this photo along with Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon.

By Jim O’Neal

At 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 1987, I was sitting in the Eisenhower Cabin at the Augusta National Golf Club sipping on a Stoli and tonic (there are 10 cabins inside the gates of the course where they play the Masters). It had been a good day, starting with eggs, biscuits and gravy, ham and grits for breakfast and fried chicken for lunch (we took a short break after the front nine).

My playing partner was Charlie Yates, who had played in the first Masters (1934), was Low Amateur five different years, and won the British Amateur Championship in 1938 (he died in 2005 at age 92).

When the 6 p.m. news came on, the big story was the Iran-Contra affair and President Ronald Reagan was scheduled to make a speech from the Oval Office at 8 p.m. I remember commenting that he should just say, “I’m the president and it was my decision due to national security … now who wants to do something about it?” I guess he didn’t … we were having dinner over at the club.

Earlier, on July 7, a 43-year-old ram-rod straight Marine lieutenant colonel had walked into the Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Office Building, raised his right hand for swearing in and proceeded with a performance that would etch his name onto the short list of 20th-century folk heroes. The appearance of Oliver North before the Senate committee charged with investigating the Iran-Contra affair had been anticipated for months … ever since the sensational discovery that the Reagan administration had concocted a bizarre plan to ship American arms to Iran to gain funding for the Contra rebels fighting the Marxist government in Nicaragua.

The plan was a violation of several laws and the trades seemed in direct contradiction of the morally direct philosophy that had been such a large part of Reagan’s appeal. Attorney General Ed Meese and others initially blamed North, an aide on the National Security Council, for directing the operation. But North appeared to be a scapegoat for more powerful Reagan officials, maybe even Reagan himself.

The comparisons to Watergate were tempting and, ultimately, the most commanding comparison came in the central question (again): “What did the president know and when did he know it?” The answer remained unclear despite dozens of people testifying, but that hardly spared Reagan. Either he was a figurehead in a rogue government or an impotent and forgetful leader with a lack of attention to detail.

We spent a long night at the bar with a group of members explaining how the “Iron Mike” golf club testing machine worked, and debating Titleist golf balls versus Wilson Pro Staff.

I think Reagan finally fessed up after blaming his memory … sadly portending things to follow.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].