Susan Lucci in Judicial Robes
A brief history of Edith Jones, eternal Supreme Court also-ran.
But you can't keep a good woman down. During the 2000 election, Jan Crawford Greenburg mused in the Chicago Tribune that if George W. Bush got himself elected president, among the candidates for his first Supreme Court nomination would likely be you-know-who. Angie Cannon said the same thing two months later in U.S. News. In November 2002, Stuart Taylor called Jones a "brainy, conservative woman" whom Bush might nominate to the court when a vacancy emerged. Two years later, there was still no vacancy, and Edith Jones rejected an attempt by Norma McCorvey, * the "Jane Roe" of Roe v. Wade (who had since changed her views on abortion), to reopen the case. But Jones also wrote a separate, concurring opinion, calling Roe "an exercise of raw judicial power" that made a mockery of the court's consideration of "dozens of death penalty cases each year."
"What about Edith Jones?" Larry Kudlow asked Pat Buchanan on MSNBC in November 2004 (when there was still no vacancy on the Supreme Court).
"She's terrific," Buchanan answered.
Late in 2004, Chief Justice William Rehnquist became severely ill. Jones' name was bandied about. John Fund wrote in The American Spectator that Jones had "strong champions within the conservative Federalist Society." But Rehnquist, stubborn old codger that he was, wouldn't die! Finally, in July of this year, Sandra Day O'Connor announced that she would retire. On CNN, Kyra Phillips reported that "when talking about the replacements and the shortlist, if you will, one name, one female name is out there, Edith Jones." On Fox News Sunday, Charles Krauthammer said Jones "was considered 15 years ago by, you know, Bush's father when he nominated Souter. So it would be a kind of a poetic justice of nominating her. ..." The nomination went to John Roberts.
Finally, Rehnquist died. Bush decided to make Roberts his nominee for chief justice, which meant he had to find someone else to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. O'Connor was the first woman on the Supreme Court. How could her replacement not be a woman? But by now (O cruel fate!) Edith Jones was frequently being referred to as "the other Edith," because Edith Clement, also a judge on the Fifth U.S. Court of Appeals, was thought to have the inside track.
Once Edith Jones had been the runner-up to the president's choice for the Supreme Court. Now she was merely the runner-up to the president's choice for women named Edith on the Fifth Circuit for the Supreme Court.
Hurricane Katrina came. New Orleans flooded. A nation wept for the Big Easy. Surely one of the waterlogged Ediths would be compensated with a nomination to the Supreme Court. Back in 1987, when Jones had been 38, there'd been some worry that she might be too young to go on the court. Now Robert Novak was writing that, at 56, Jones was "near the outer age limit."
The nomination went to White House Counsel Harriet Miers (who, incidentally, is four years older than Jones). William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, pronounced himself "disappointed, depressed and demoralized." He continued, "I'm disappointed because I expected President Bush to nominate someone with a visible and distinguished constitutionalist track record." He then listed five female candidates he would have found preferable. Third down the list was … well, you don't really need me to tell you, do you?
Since Edith Jones was first considered for the Supreme Court, the Soviet Union has fallen, the World Wide Web has been invented, and the long-playing vinyl record has been rendered obsolete. If I were Jones, I'd be starting to suspect it isn't going to happen.
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.
Photograph of Edith Jones courtesy KRT.