Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Patrick to Supreme Court? Could the ultimate domino fall

Speculation has ramped up over the last couple of days that Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens might announce later this spring that he is retiring from the court. Could this be Governor Patrick's ticket out? First, the Stevens news:
WASHINGTON - Justice John Paul Stevens, leader of the Supreme Court's liberal wing, said in an interview that he would decide in early April whether to retire at the end of this court term....

Interviewed March 8, Stevens said he would make up his mind in about a month.

The court's current term is scheduled to end in late June. Justices who are retiring typically announce the news near the end of a term so a successor can be seated by October.
Why Patrick? Lets go back in time to the Summer of 2007. As the presidential campaign was just starting to wind up, the SCOTUSblog took a look at possible Supreme Court nominees should a Democrat be elected president. Here is part of what they wrote:
Deval Patrick may prefer to run for a second term as Governor. More generally, though being named a Justice is obviously an extraordinary and profound honor, a nominee on the left is in all likelihood signing up for ten years of dissent on many of the most important issues of Court confronts....

My ultimate predictions? Kim Wardlaw (2009, for Souter), Deval Patrick (2010, for Stevens), and Elena Kagan (2011, for Ginsburg).
Well, the authors got their first prediction wrong, but they did list Sonia Sotomayor among the candidates for Souter's position. Many are touting Kagan for the position should Stevens retire, but the author has accounted for that by predicting that she will replace Justice Ginsberg.

So, what would this mean for the governor's race? Well, the timing really couldn't be better. Let's assume for a moment that President Obama doesn't announce his pick until mid-June. On June 15 he gets Patrick on the horn and makes him an offer he can't refuse: not only will he be the next Supreme Court justice, but he won't have to risk tarnishing his legacy with a lost election.

If Governor Patrick pulls more than 85% of the delegate votes at the State Democratic Convention on June 6, he will be the only Democratic nominee on the primary ballot. So, if the governor decides to stand down, the state committee would convene to nominate a replacement candidate. That would almost definitely be Lt. Governor Tim Murray. (If Grace Ross qualifies for the ballot as well, I do not know if procedure would allow for a replacement in the primaries, but a Murray sticker campaign could still defeat Ross).

So Murray gets to campaign all summer while Patrick finishes up his work at the state house. Because a new justice wouldn't be seated until August or so, Patrick can do the dirty work on this year's budget, which will undoubtedly be unpopular. After he signs the budget, he turns the keys to the governor's office to Murray, who can continue to campaign as the active governor while being able to put a little distance between himself and the unpopular decisions Patrick will have to make during the budget process.

I don't think anyone has polled a potential Murray-Baker-Cahill race instead of Patrick-Baker-Cahill, but I sense that Murray is a bit more popular than Patrick. Where the governor is currently holding a three- to eight-point lead in the polls, I'd guess Murray's lead would be more like eight- to twelve-points.

Really, what could be better for Massachusetts liberals? Deval Patrick gets to sit on the Supreme Court for the next 30 years and Tim Murray becomes a favorite to win the corner office.
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