Senator Heidi Heitkamp A Possible For The Supreme Court?


The quick answer to the question in the headline is, “probably not,” but since it’s a rumor I’ve heard from more than one source in North Dakota political circles (probably inspired by similar and more substantive rumors around Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar) let’s explore it.

“Heard from some in the know in the Dem party that Senator Heitkamp is on the President’s short list of Supreme Court candidates,” a SAB reader with contacts in political circles tells me.

I ran that by a Republican source of mine in Washington DC and he was dismissive. “I’m laughing but who knows?” he told me. “Her senate seat alone would cause pause.”

That last is a major consideration. If Obama nominates Heitkamp for the Supreme Court he’s pretty much handing a Senate seat to Republicans. North Dakota Democrats simply do not have another Heitkamp-caliber candidate capable of winning an election at the top of the statewide ballot.

I doubt that Senate Democrats would be very happy with President Obama if he gave away a seat like that. But what does Obama care? He’s a lame duck President, and maybe he has bigger fish to fry.

The politics which have shaped up around this appointment battle have Republicans arguing that Obama shouldn’t even nominate anyone because he’s a lame duck and stuff. The Republicans are pointing to past comments from Democrats – most notably Vice President and former Senator Joe Biden – who have said in the past that it’s inappropriate to have a battle over a Supreme Court nomination in an election year.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]…Heitkamp’s political future in North Dakota is anything but secure. Even a liberal newspaper columnist is skeptical about whether or not she can win another term in the Senate in 2018….[/mks_pullquote]

But Democrats have an out. “Officials at the White House and on Capitol Hill noted that Mr. Biden had also said in the 1992 speech that he would support a future Supreme Court nominee by Mr. Bush as long as the president consulted with the Senate or chose a moderate,” the New York Times reported.

And who has been working for years now to position herself as the most moderate of moderate Democrats? Heidi Heitkamp. Could Obama maybe put a thumb in the eye of Republicans by nominating someone like Heitkamp who a) is perceived as a moderate and b) has a track record of opposing the sort of regulatory overreach Republicans are afraid an Obama nominee would uphold from the bench?

A nomination like that might weaken Republican resolve to block consideration of any nominee. Plus, freed from having to run for re-election in a red state like North Dakota, I suspect Heitkamp might lose some of her convictions about federal overreach.

But even if Obama went that route, he still probably wouldn’t pick Heitkamp. I’m sure there are hundreds of names on lists that the White House is considering for the SCOTUS nomination. If Heitkmap is on any of those lists, she’s probably nowhere near the top.

Heitkamp might like the idea though. She’s an attorney, and I’m sure all lawyers have daydreamed at one point or another about sitting on the high court. That Heitkamp has never been a judge is no obstacle. There have been over 40 justices who have served on SCOTUS without first having been a judge, the most recent being former Chief Justice William Rehnquist and current Associate Justice Elena Kagan.

Plus, Heitkamp’s political future in North Dakota is anything but secure. Even a liberal newspaper columnist is skeptical about whether or not she can win another term in the Senate in 2018, and regardless of whether Doug Burgum of Wayne Stenehjem win in 2016 (sorry, Rick Becker) the governor’s office is probably in Republican hands for at least another decade.

Given those realities, an appointment to the Supreme Court would be a dream for Heitkamp.

But, again, she probably has a better chance of winning a lottery jackpot.

Possible? Sure.

Probable? Nope.