According to the Huffington Post, Donald Trump has told (or intimated) to Peter Thiel that he would name the billionaire to the Supreme Court if Trump wins the presidency. You can take this however you like — as usual there are no names attached to story and the Trump campaign denies it.
Mostly I’m skeptical because it’s too good to be true.
Naturally, there was much chortling from media types — the same types who saw nothing wrong with the nomination of a woman who advocated for the censoring political speech — about the preposterousness of such an idea. This is partly driven by the myth that Thiel is an enemy of free speech rather than an advocate for privacy and property rights. In reality, there are many reasons to believe that Thiel would make a tremendous Supreme Court Justice.
One of the best reasons to nominate Thiel would be that he meets absolutely none of the bogus qualifications partisans have set up for justices.
These days, the political system asks four things of prospective SCOTUS members: Did you go to Harvard or Yale? Were you an appellate court judge? Do you pledge allegiance to all my partisan positions? Does your gender and/or ethnicity balance the court in a way that pleases my tribe? (Adherence to the Constitution is somewhere on that list — maybe 12th or 120th depending on the party.) Thiel doesn’t answer any of these questions properly, and yet his life experience makes him well suited to uphold the intention of the Founders and simultaneously grasp the pressures and apprehensions of the contemporary America. No other justice sitting on the court today can make that claim.
Thiel would also bring much needed ideological diversity to the court.
Yes, he’s a libertarian. And it’s about time we had one on the court. But if you read any of Thiel’s speeches or his book, you immediately get the sense that he’s not a rigid ideologue. Instead, he’s pretty philosophical about the world. Certainly, Thiel doesn’t fall under any of the prefabricated political or cultural categories we like to file people into. That alone would be a welcome change. Sure, he’d be the first openly gay justice, but, judging from positions, he’s sensitive to preserving liberty on all sides. He’s obscenely wealthy, but the PayPal co-founder and entrepreneur would also be the only person on the court with any first-hand knowledge of how the government regulatory regime affects people and businesses.
Though he has a J.D. from Stanford Law School, he quit law to embark on a career that made him a billionaire. Thiel would be capable of comprehending the intricacies of complex cases but also frame them in comprehensible ways rather than in theoretical terms and legalese.
As Glenn Reynolds wrote not long ago:
But law is supposed to govern everyone’s actions, and everyone is supposed to understand it. (“Ignorance of the law,” as we are often told, “is no excuse.”) But when the Supreme Court is composed of narrowly specialized former judges from elite schools, the likelihood that the law will be comprehensible to ordinary people and non-lawyers seems pretty small.
Unlike most Supreme Court justices, Thiel would be wholly immune from political pressures. Despite many arguments out there for term-limiting the court and making it more democratic, the entire point of having appointed lifetime judges is to render them immune from the vagaries and pressures of partisanship. Sadly, though, most judges owe their careers to political appointments and most are immersed in a world that runs on patronage. Not only are Thiel’s positions outside ideological norms of partisan politics, he owes nothing to either party.