In the past few days Mario Cuomo and former Senator Edward Brooke passed away. Both of their obituaries indicate that they were offered and turned down a seat on the Supreme Court. Someone like me is bound to ask why any healthy person would do that? I can think of a couple of plausible reasons:
1. “I can be president.”
If you’re Hillary Clinton in 2009 and President Obama wanted to make you a Justice, then you might well say no. Justice Arthur Goldberg, on the other hand, was the last sitting Justice to suffer from this delusion.
2. “I need money.”
A lawyer I once worked with turned down an offer of a federal district judgeship. When I asked why, he said he had an ex-wife and kids to put through college. He couldn’t afford to be a judge. Justice Abe Fortas suffered from this flaw–he should have stayed in practice.
3. “I would hate being a judge.”
This is the most complex answer. Some people might just love the action of political life. Or they might care deeply about foreign policy or economic issues that are not part of a Justice’s usual work. Or they might find much of the caseload dull and technical. This may well explain why Cuomo or Brooke did not want to be on the Court.
4. “I have skeletons in my closet.”
5. “I can’t handle the stress.”
Justice Whittaker (who resigned after four years on the Court) is the poster child for this issue.
As far as I know, Cuomo is the last person to turn down an offer to join the Court, though it is hard to know if others since then have asked not to be considered.