No one knows whether President Richard Nixon would have named Joseph T. Sneed to the U.S. Supreme Court if Nixon had served a full second term.
But as we note in this column in today's Forum, White House tapes show that Nixon had a soft spot for Sneed, the father of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina. We link to two of those tapes below.
Sneed was dean of Duke Law School, Nixon's alma mater, when Nixon appointed him deputy attorney general in January 1973. The President named Sneed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in July 1973. A year later, Nixon resigned in disgrace. His successor, Gerald Ford, made one appointment to the high court, John Paul Stevens, who recently retired.
Sneed, meanwhile, served 35 years on the appellate court and died in 2008. Here is an obituary.
Sneed's name came up several times during conversations recorded in Nixon's offices, as disclosed by the Presidential Records Program at the University of Virginia's Miller Center for Public Affairs.
In this tape, dated Nov. 11, 1972, Nixon is meeting at Camp David with Chief of Staff H.R. "Bob" Haldeman and Chief Domestic Policy Adviser John D. Ehrlichman, and asks whether Sneed might accept an appoinment as the head of the Internal Revenue Service:
"How about the Dean of the Duke [University] Law School? Would he take it? Having in mind the fact that he ... having in mind the fact that he would go up to the Court maybe?"
Earlier, on Feb. 2, 1972, Ehrlichman passed along a gift from Sneed to Nixon, a photo of Nixon during his days at the Duke law school.
As this tape reveals, Ehrlichman and Nixon proceeded to discuss their plans for Sneed. Ehrlichman described him as "very bright, very obviously quite conservative, a good Republican."
Here is the Miller Center's full transcript:
Ehrlichman: It's the dean. He's named Sneed. He's a very classy Republican.
President Nixon: Well, I'm―incidentally, a fellow that Lon Fuller recommended for the Court.
President Nixon: Says he's that good.
Ehrlichman: Yeah. Well, I talked to him about busing and a lot of things, and he thinks straight.
President Nixon: Keep him in mind.
Ehrlichman: Yep. He's―
President Nixon: How old is he?
Ehrlichman: I would guess about 52, something of that kind. ... His wife was with him and she looks about that age.
President Nixon: What is his background, law school or whatever it is?
Ehrlichman: I'm not sure where he went to law school. He's been teaching at Stanford for about eight or ten years. I don't know where he was before that. I mean, that's how I got an introduction to him. But he asked to come in.
President Nixon: He is a classy guy, huh?
Ehrlichman: I think he is.
President Nixon: Good.
Ehrlichman: He's got a funny muscle spasm, his head over to one side, but very bright, very obviously quite conservative, a good Republican. He's been active in Republican politics in California.
President Nixon: How the hell did he?
Ehrlichman: I don't know how that happened, but―
President Nixon: God Almighty. You know, you have to wonder how any .
Ehrlichman: Apparently he's been pretty busy in California state politics, because he knew all the players.
President Nixon: Let's remember him, sort of keep him in mind, you know? You never know what―assistant attorney general, deputy attorney general. He's that kind of fellow.
Ehrlichman: He says you're most welcome at the law school any time you wanted to come down.
President Nixon: It's about the only place they'll let me on.