GUEST COLUMN: ‘Whizzer’ White is the kind of Democrat the Supreme Court needs, but the species is extinct
He may well have been the most qualified person ever to sit on the Supreme Court. His life’s experiences and achievements easily dwarfs any of the current justices. And unlike current justices (especially those nominated by Republican presidents) who are scrutinized, ridiculed, Borked, and then ultimately labeled as either liberal or conservative, his written majority and dissenting opinions confounded those who wished to categorize his judicial philosophies.
And as if to offset any luster that might make him appear aloof to the common man’s world, he was routinely referred to by his nickname, “Whizzer”.
Byron Raymond “Whizzer” White was a prodigy. Born and raised outside of Fort Collins, Col., he excelled in nearly everything. He was the valedictorian of his high school class, just as he also earned the same status along with being Phi Beta Kappa when he graduated from the University of Colorado. He then won a Rhodes Scholarship attending Oxford. This would have been enough to fill any normal person’s plate. But Byron White was not normal. He also was an extremely gifted athlete.
He played both college baseball and football, where in 1937 he led Colorado to a perfect regular season record and wound up being voted runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. Following his time at Oxford, he enrolled in the Yale Law School. However, due to his football skills, “Whizzer” was the fourth selection in the 1938 NFL draft and chosen by the Pittsburgh Steelers (known in those days as the Pirates). So as if shuffling his time between studying law at Yale and becoming the leading rusher for the Steelers and later the Detroit Lions weren’t enough, White suddenly found himself answering another calling even more demanding than the others. It was World War II, so White enlisted in the U.S. Navy, was bestowed the rank of Lieutenant Commander and was sent to the Pacific Theater, where he earned two Bronze Stars.
He was appointed to the Supreme Court by President John F. Kennedy in 1962 and served until his retirement in 1993. He served through seven different administrations, wrote over 900 opinions and earned a reputation for his tough questioning and not letting attorneys who presented their cases off the hook easily. But despite White being nominated to the court by one of the most recognizable names in the Democratic Party, and himself being a lifelong Democrat, he also became one of the earlier and more vocal critics of the Supreme Court as he saw his fellow justices taking a more activist approach in interpreting the law.
In his dissent in the case of Moore vs. City of East Cleveland, White wrote “The Judiciary is the most vulnerable and comes nearest to illegitimacy when it deals with judge-made constitutional law having little or no cognizable roots in the language or even the design of constitution.”
He was one of the two dissenting votes in Roe v. Wade and could see no discernible constitutional interpretation that could be made for the majority decision. Instead, he saw the majority decision as “an exercise in raw judicial power”, claiming that “The court simply fashions and announces a new constitutional right for pregnant mothers, and with scarcely any reason or authority for its action.”
I always find it interesting whenever a new Supreme Court nominee goes before the Senate “lynch mob” to be grilled, that the nominee dares not speak ill of abortion and must simply look the vultures in the eye and respond with the rehearsed “It is established law, senator”. To say otherwise would readily get you a turn-down vote by those who want the Supremes to verify those laws that progressives only approve of, or make laws when progressives need to advance their agendas.
It is perhaps ironic that the justice to succeed Byron White was none other than progressive hero Ruth Bader Ginsburg. If her seat were to become vacant before President Trump were to leave office, just perhaps he could find another Democrat like Byron “Whizzer” White to fill the seat.
Who am I kidding? That kind of Democrat doesn’t exist anymore.